146, 147 & 148: The Warden; The Old Boys; and Around the World in Eighty Days

Let’s just get it out of the way that Trollope is a distinctly unfortunate name, and that it will never be possible to say “I love a nice Trollope” in the way one might say “I love a nice Dumas” without exciting sniggering.

When it comes to the work itself, however, that’s exactly the sort of thing you want to say. The blurb of my edition describes The Warden as being “in the Jane Austen tradition”, a judgement which is both accurate and misleading – misleading because it suggests pastiche or imitativeness, whereas Trollope has a voice and a wit gloriously his own. There’s a party described with a wonderfully extended military metaphor (and I think my English teacher permanently corrupted my mind, because I am incapable of reading “the only enemy whose lance she cared to encounter was not there” as anything but sexual).

Other things which amused me… Names – Mrs Goodenough [I have now met someone actually called Goodenough, for the record, but this is still funny], the pamphleteer Mr Popular Sentiment. Bon mots and social commentary – “If the world is to be set right, the work will be done by shilling numbers”; a paragraph on the phenomenon of asking “how are you?”. Whacking suspension of disbelief with a sledgehammer by calling attention to the story’s fictionality – “I live in hopes of finishing my work within 300 pages”; “no one conversant with human nature and novels can have a doubt.” And I adore the characters.

William Trevor’s The Old Boys is rather darker and weirder. I don’t know that anything I say can do it justice – there’s a sort of black comedy running through it, but overall it’s a rather disquieting story about old scores, and the sinister figure of the housemaster Dowse looms over it all.

Phileas Fogg, “precision personified”, makes it his object to circumnavigate the globe on a schedule. What particularly makes this story stand out to me is how Verne manages to make a compelling and exciting adventure with a main character who is so startlingly unmoved and undemonstrative. Rather than boring us, Fogg’s unshakeable, clockwork confidence makes us fret on his behalf. (His rather more excitable French servant Passepartout also helps to make the adventurers more relatable.)

The Warden
Author Anthony Trollope
Published 1855
Pages 165
Best character Eleanor.

The Old Boys
Author William Trevor
Published 1965
Pages 170
Best character General Sanctuary.

Around the World in Eighty Days
Author Jules Verne
Published 1873
Pages 195
Best character Mrs Aouda.


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