The second major impression that strikes me, on this re-reading, is Trollope’s almost metafictional refusal to play some of the typical games of the novelist. A great example comes in Barchester Towers when we see our heroine, Eleanor Harding, pursued simultaneously by the feckless and improvident Bertie Stanhope and the scheming, oily Reverend Obadiah Slope. Trollope pauses in the midst of his narration and makes this rather surprising statement:
But let the gentle-hearted reader be under no apprehension whatsoever. It is not destined that Eleanor shall marry Mr. Slope or Bertie Stanhope. And here perhaps it may be allowed to the novelist to explain his views on a very important point in the art of telling tales. He ventures to reprobate that system which goes so far to violate all proper confidence between the author and his readers by maintaining nearly to the end of the third volume a mystery as to the fate of their favourite personage. Nay, more, and worse than this, is too frequently done. Have not often the profoundest efforts of genius been used to baffle the aspirations of the reader, to raise false hopes and false fears, and to give rise to expectations which are never to be realized? Are not promises all but made of delightful horrors, in lieu of which the writer produces nothing but most commonplace realities in his final chapter? And is there not a species of deceit in this to which the honesty of the present age should lend no countenance?
He does the same thing in Doctor Thorne, when he introduces a digression on a minor character thusly: “Though, by so doing, we shall somewhat anticipate the end of our story, it may be desirable that the full tale of Mr Gazebee’s loves should be told here. When Mary is breaking her heart on her death-bed in the last chapter, or otherwise accomplishing her destiny, we shall hardly find a fit opportunity of saying much about Mr Gazebee and his aristocratic bride.” Just a sly reminder that — of course — Trollope has no intention of allowing his beloved Mary Thorne to “break her heart on her death-bed.” Which is why I didn’t introduce this post with the words “SPOILER ALERT.”