Friday 28 August 1998

John Webster: The White Devil (1612)

Edition:  Everyman
Review number: 112

Like the better known Duchess of Malfi, sometimes considered almost to be a sequel to The White Devil, this play is concerned with the murky depths of Italian politics. It is actually based on real events, though the plot apparently differs quite widely from the true history of the famous courtesan Vittoria Corombona.

The story begins with the banishment of Lodovico, for his crimes in the city of Rome; he rails against others, whose crimes are greater yet who retain the privilege of living in the city (notably Paulo Giodano Ursini, the Duke of Brachiano, protector of Vittoria though husband of Isabella). Isabella's brother is the powerful Francisco de Medicis, Duke of Florence discovers his relationship with Vittoria and insults him; Brachiano's response is to divorce the innocent Isabella. He then proceeds to arrange the murders of Isabella and Camillo, Vittoria's husband.

As various parties begin to try to exact their revenge and Vittoria is put on trial for the murder of Camillo, the bloodthirstiness of the play mounts - poison, stabbing, strangling, shooting. All in all, it is an excellent example of a revenge tragedy, though the plot takes second place to the poetry of individual scenes.

Wednesday 26 August 1998

J.F. Plumb: England in the Eighteenth Century (1950)

Edition: Penguin, 1968
Review number: 111

This book, covering the reigns of the first three Georges (1714-1820), is perhaps the least successful in the Pelican History of England. The brevity of its coverage (imposed as a series restriction) is the main cause of this. There were many important developments during the eighteenth century involving - and frequently commencing in - Britain, not just in the social and economic spheres (the events collectively referred to as the Industrial Revolution) but in the political arena as well (the French and American revolutions and the development of British rule in India spring to mind).

The century saw so many developments important to the way we live now that they can only be sketched in brief in a book of this length. To try and get round this, Plumb assumes that his readers will have at least some sort of basic familiarity with the political history of the period, if not the social and economic. Thus, one section of the book is entitled "The Age of Chatham", yet he omits to mention that Pitt and Chatham are one and the same; so one who did not know this, it would not become obvious until the paragraph in a later section detailing the rise of his grandson, Pitt the Younger.

As the background to English affairs becomes more complex and more international, short paragraphs explaining the European situation are not enough to put its influence on them into context. This book cannot, like the earlier members of the series, be read as an introduction to a period; it is more a useful summary and a reminder to those who have already read more on the eighteenth century.

Tuesday 25 August 1998

William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Edition: Chatto & Windus

The Sound and the Fury must rank as one of the most cleverly written novels of all time. It is a stream of consciousness narrative, divided into four points each narrated from a different viewpoint. The plot concerns the decline and decay of a decadent family from the US South during the first half of this century. The cleverness lies in the way in which Faulkner manages to convince the reader that they are getting completely under the skin of each of the narrators in the first three parts (the final section is more of an epilogue, sketching in the conclusion of the plot). Three of the parts, the first, third and fourth, tell of three successive days in 1928, the second part is a flashback to 1910.

The first part is the greatest tour de force, being convincingly told from the point of view of a mentally handicapped young man named Benjy, who has no understanding of the events going on around him and a complete inability to comprehend chronology; all times are to him "now", as past events impinge on his present awareness. He haunts the local golf course, hoping to hear calls to a caddy, his vanished sister's family nickname having been Caddie (as we learn later). Faulkner thoughtfully marks transitions from one time to another by alternating normal and italic typefaces, a device without which it would be impossible to gater any idea of what is going on, as changes occur even in the middle of sentences as recollections occur to Benjy.

The narrator of the second part is Benjy's brother Quentin, telling the story of the day on which he commits suicide. Caddie's departure and his suicide have the same cause, we learn: an incestuous affair which leaves Quentin racked with guilt and Caddie pregnant.

The third part is narrated by another brother, Jason, telling of Caddie's attempts to get to meet her incestuous daughter, brought up by the family from which Caddie has been strenuously excluded. (The fact that the daughter is also named Quentin clears up confusion left over from the first part, where Benjy does not differentiate between father and daughter except to use masculine and feminine pronouns.) While not as overtly clever as the first two parts, Jason's miserly nature and hypocrisy - though of a different kind to that of the rest of the family - is skilfully brought out. This third part leads up to Quentin running away from home, taking her uncle's savings with her.

The corruption of this family is accompanied by a kind of Greek chorus of their coloured servants, who of course are never able to openly criticise despite their own comparative moral purity. The small town Southern atmosphere also comes across very clearly. All in all, this is a twentieth century classic, not surprisingly compared to Ulysses by the comments printed on the jacket and in the introduction to this edition.

Michael Jecks: A Moorland Hanging (1996)

Edition: Headline, 1996
Review number: 109

A Moorland Hanging is the third of Jecks' Devonshire novels featuring Simon Puttock and Sir Baldwin Furnshil. Like P.C. Doherty, Simon Jecks is an author who really knows something about the medieval period. He is perhaps more interested in institutions than Doherty, and this combines with the country setting to naturally remove some of the unpleasantness of the medieval world (to a modern reader) which comes to the fore in Doherty's series of the seamier side of London life.

The novel has as its central theme the clash between forest law and common law which was an important part of the medieval English scene, where much of the land was designated "royal forest", to be the private hunting ground of the king and his friends. Although open land rather than woodland, Dartmoor was a forest, and this led to clashes between the tin miners who worked on the moor (who paid a special tax to the king, and were able to run their own affairs with their own courts in return) and local landowners. The miners were able to prevent the use of particular pieces of land for farming by marking them out as places where tin was mined; this privilege could be (and was) used to terrorise the landowners, who were unable to retaliate against the miners because they had the king's protection.

The particular dispute around which the plot turns concerns the escape of a villein, Peter Bruther, from the Beauscyr family demesne. By declaring himself a miner, he puts himself beyond the landowners' normal methods for forcing a serf to return and causes a confrontation between the Beauscyrs and the miners' leader, Thomas Smyth. When Bruther is discovered hanged on a tree on the moor, as though killed judicially, the confrontation threatens to escalate into a major incident; hence the involvement of Simon Puttock, the king's bailiff, and his friend Sir Baldwin Furnshill.

A Moorland Hanging is a fascinating novel, particularly in the way it makes the frequently obscure workings of the medieval legal system not only clear but interesting. The characters do tend rather to the two dimensional, especially those - paradoxically - that you would expect to be best fleshed out, the series characters Puttock and Furnshill.

Monday 24 August 1998

Federico Garcia Lorca: Plays Two (1920-1936)

Translation: Gwynne Edwards
Edition: Methuen
Review number: 108

This volume contains The Butterfly's Evil Spell, The Love of Don Perlimpin, The Puppet Play of Don Christóbal, The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife and When Five Years Pass.

The second volume of Lorca plays printed by Methuen contains rather less well known plays than the first. They span over fifteen years of writing, from the very beginning of Lorca's career to the end of his life, and cover a wide range of degrees of naturalism and surrealism; yet their unity of tone is quite remarkable.

The Butterfly's Evil Spell was Lorca's first play, produced while he was still a student in Madrid in 1920. It's characters are all insects (which was one reason for the play's hostile reception). It tells of the love of Sylvia (representing feminine beauty) for the poet Boybeetle (representing idealistic youth). But he has fallen for the Butterly, who has fallen, injured, into the world of ground-living insects. She seems to represent the idealistic and unattainable world that youth yearns for. The theme of the shadow of death falling over the young as they age, a major part of Lorca's work even at this early period, is represented by the transient fireflies, the threatening Scorpion and the dying butterfly who will still separate Sylvia and Boybeetle. The play shows distinct traces of one of Lorca's major influences, the plays of Maeterlink, particularly The Blue Bird which has a closely related plot.

The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife also deals with the contrast of youth and old age, here in the context of the traditional farce plot of an old man married to a young woman. The henpecked showmaker and childless, flirtatious wife don't fit in and so are objects of ridicule in their small town, a microcosm of the narrow-minded Spanish culture in which Lorca lived and where he had to keep his homosexuality a close secret. By the second act, things are even worse; the shoemaker, disheartened by his continual failure to satisfy his wife's desires and expectations, leaves; she ends up in the socially unacceptable position of running an inn to make ends meet. Yet, contrary to the prurient beliefs of the town, she remains faithful to his memory. This allows Lorca to make important points about the true meaning of honour, another major theme of his, particularly the contrast between public reputation and private virtue.

The old man and the young wife appear again in the next play in the set (actually slightly earlier chronologically), which has the full title The Love of Don Perlimpín and Belisa in the Garden: An Erotic Print in Four Scenes. Belisa is married off by her mother, but even on her wedding night is unfaithful, receiving five lovers who represent all the races of the earth while Don Perlimpín is asleep. Once he becomes aware of his inability to satisfy the passions of his young wife, Don Perlimpín invents a young lover for her. When to save his honour he has to fight and kill the young man he himself is discovered dying in the garden; transcending his impotence, he has managed to become the man Belisa is longing for.

The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal is an extremely short piece (under twenty pages) written for puppets manipulated by Lorca himself to allow an escape from the whims of actors, directors and impresarios and to continue a move away from the suffocating traditions of Spanish commercial theatre. The traditions of puppet theatre were more spontaneous, with a different more vernacular style of language referred to in the prologue as coming "fresh from the earth".

Don Cristóbal, a doctor, needs money to marry; he gains this by murdering and robbing a patient, presumably a parable based on Lorca's feelings about the real world's patient/doctor relationships. With this money, he buys Dona Rosita from her mother, only to find that she is not the pure chaste bride he hoped for.

When Five Years Pass is a surrealist play, whose bizarre characters include the football player, who never speaks, just smokes and embraces his girlfriend. It too is a play about youth and aging, about the end of idealism, about death even in the midst of life. None of the parts are named, which makes their nature seem more allegorical even than the characters in the other plays.

The young man, rejected by the girl, goes away for five years, rejecting in his turn the deperate advances of his secretary. The first act is mainly a conversation between the young man and the old man - another aspect of the young man - about the nature of memory. This is interrupted by the friend, advocate of a hedonist lifestyle (and yet another aspect of the young man). The second act tells the story of the five years from the point of view of the girl, knowing that her family destine her eventually to marry the young man. This part is about growing up, and the contrasting viewpoints seem to represent the different ways we have of understanding the world around us - as, I suppose, it is the nature of surrealist art to do.

Friday 21 August 1998

Ngaio Marsh: Swing, Brother, Swing (1949)

Edition: Fontana, 1974
Review number: 107

Another formulaic mystery from Ngaio Marsh. The jazz band setting gives this a rather thirties feel, though the band is clearly modelled on Spike Jones and the City Slickers rather than on a thirties act. IT features an eccentric peer, Lord Pastern & Bagot, who has periodic enthusiasms; his current hobby is jazz percussion. He persuades Breezy Bellairs to let him join "the Boys" on stage as a promotional stunt; this will end with a trick where Lord Pastern pretends to shoot the accordion player, Carlos Rivera. Needless to say, in the event, the trick goes wrong and someone has replaced the blank cartridge with (bizarrely) the unscrewed tip of a parasol, and this kills Rivera.

Such theatrical events gone wrong are the hackneyed currency of this type of novel; this one must be at least the third in which Marsh has used the trick and it would certainly not be the last.

Alleyn, as usual, manages to sort out the mystery, which has complications involving Rivera's courtship of Lord Pastern's stepdaughter, the identity of an "agony uncle" who signs himself G.P.F. ("Guide, Philosopher and Friend", nauseatingly enough) and the London drugs trade. The writing is competent, as usual for Marsh, but the hackneyed nature of the plotting drags down the book's standard to among the lesser of her creations.

Thursday 20 August 1998

Marcel Proust: Swann's Way (1913)

Translation: C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, 1981
Edition: Penguin, 1985
Review number: 106

Swann's Way (Au cote de chez Swann) is the first in Proust's monumental Remembrance of Things Past. This Penguin edition, of the whole novel in three volumes, is an updating of the famous English translation of C.K. Scott Moncrieff, rewritten to fit in with a new, greatly improved French edition prepared after Moncrieff's death.

The first part of Swann's Way, the introductory Overture, immediately immerses us in the intense, slightly strange (yet extremely French) world of the narrator. As the title of the sequence suggests, everything is couched as a reminiscence of the past, and is not presented in chronological order but as these memories occur to the narrator. We plunge into his adolescence, and then in the second part (Combray) his earlier childhood holidays are remembered (during the famous tea-soaked madeleine biscuit episode, where the taste prompts the memory). The title of the book comes from one of the two walks taken by the family, either towards the house of the Swanns, or toward Guermantes (The Guermantes Way being used for the title of a later volume).

The third part of this novel, Swann in Love, moves back again, to the time when Swann was a bachelor; the narrator couldn't possibly have known all of the feelings Swann had. It describes in great detail the infatuation Swann had for a young woman Odette of distinctly dubious reputation.

With Remembrance of Things Past, it's not the plot but the atmosphere which is important. The novel, in this translation, reads like a kind of gentle but sophisticated stream of consciousness; you are drawn into the world of the narrator and of Swann in the major section (though this is written in the third person). Proust uses a poetic desciptive method, where, in each small section of the text, words are used in a metaphical way all taken from a particular sensual art - music or painting for example. This is how the atmosphere is created; it's very clever, but also unobtrusive and effective.

Tuesday 18 August 1998

Alexander Fullerton: Store (1971)

Edition: Cassell, 1972
Review number: 105

Store is a novel about managing a large London department store. It is not perhaps the kind of book I would normally read, not being particularly interested in the trials and tribulations of retail, but I enjoyed Fullerton's novel, which is somewhat old fashioned in a J.B. Priestley mould.

Manifold's London store is in trouble; profits are down and there is an imminent prospect of a hostile takeover. Sir Walter Manifold, still running the business he built up before the war, brings in John Conant from the Australian branches with the authority to do whatever is needed. After some investigation, he begins to realise that what is really necessary is for Sir Walter, now in his seventies and not what he was in his prime, to make way as general manager for someone younger. This is just about the only recommendation he cannot make directly, and this is where the internal politics become interesting. The machinations of Arnold Leverage, who runs a chain of rather more downmarket stores and is the main contender o take over Manifold's, muddy the waters further, and Conant's old love affairs, one with Sir Walter's daughter and one with the wife of another director, cause more complications.

Interest is sustained to the end, and the fate of the store hangs in the balance until the last few pages.

Peter Levi: Grave Witness (1985)

Edition: Quartet, 1985
Review number: 104

Though it is perhaps a little unusual, it is by no means unreasonable for the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University to write thrillers. It is pleasing that he has written a good one (and this is not the only one he has written); clearly he has a familiarity with the genre. You sometimes find that writers entering an unfamiliar genre that they do not read - and they can be quite eminent authors sometimes - do not realise that their "great work" that is to them really original is in fact a sub-standard rehash of the most overworked themes in the genre. (This happens rather more frequently with science fiction I think, than with crime fiction.)

Ben Jonson - yes, really - is an Oxford historian, an archaeologist. He is invited to the north Oxfordshire home of Ralph Iggleby to see some of the items the latter has excavated from a burial mound on his estate. These items include Greek pottery; while not impossible at the period of the grave - from a culture known from finds elsewhere in Europe to have traded with the Greeks - this would be a sensation in British archaeology and greatly enhance the value of the other items found in the grave. Ralph also has a niece, Joy, with whom Ben is greatly taken.

Ben has suspicions about the find; not about Ralph's sincerity but about the question of the relationship of the Greek pottery with the remainder of the grave goods. Visiting London to find out more, he is assaulted in the shop of a dealer in antiquities; then Ralph Iggleby is killed. Ben now has a job to persuade the police that in him they do not see a murderer. He must also work out the purpose of the grave mound contents and who was responsible for the work done there.

In many ways, this thriller is reminiscent of the gentle thrillers of Mary Stewart, where an innocent is caught up in large - and criminal - matters beyond their understanding. The puzzle is not difficult, but the interest lies in how Ben will escape the crooks and at the same time persuade the police of his innocence rather than in solving the riddle of the murderer's identity.

Monday 17 August 1998

Ngaio Marsh: Final Curtain (1947)

Edition: Penguin, 1961
Review number: 103

The war is finally over, and Alleyn is returning from New Zealand - where the previous two books in the series, Colour Scheme and Died in the Wool, are set - to join his wife in London. Just as Troy is expecting him back any day, she receives an extremely pressing invitation: distinguished actor Sir Henry Ancred wishes to commission her to paint his portrait at his family seat, Ancreton. This invitation is occasioned by Sir Henry receiving the (inaccurate) news that the nation commissioned Troy to paint a portrait of one of his friends and rivals.

Truth to tell, though he may have been a magnificent actor, Sir Henry's talent could never have matched his conceit. As far as he was concerned, the nation has never been as quick to recognise his status as great man of the stage as it should have been; even his knighthood is not a grateful acknowledgment of his stature but was obtained by the somewhat unexpected inheritance of a baronetcy from a distant cousin.

In the end, Troy accepts and travels to Ancreton, where she is plunged into the midst of a bizarre family gathering; theatrical eccentricity is part and parcel of being an Ancred. The family (other than Sir Henry) is united only in their dislike of Sonia Orrincourt, a beautiful blonde plucked from the chorus by Sir Henry, virtually in his dotage but likely to step into a second marriage at any moment - particularly when his family enrage him.

A series of unpleasant practical jokes is followed by the death of Sir Henry; Troy suspects it is something more serious than eating crayfish when suffering from a stomach disorder. Luckily, Alleyn has just now returned, and he is able to disentangle the whole complex plot.

Final Curtain is one of the better known Ngaio Marsh novels, and it is the first I ever read by her. It is not one of her best, though; it shows distinct signs of a return to the formulaic house party crime novel she was writing before the two set in New Zealand. It has an upper class family only rivalled in grotesque eccentricity by the Lampreys (in Surfeit of Lampreys) and the sort of implausible puzzle gently mocked by Michael Innes in There Came Both Mist and Snow. As an example of the classic detection genre, you chould hardly chose a novel more typical, but Marsh can offer far better.

Wednesday 12 August 1998

Amir D. Aczel: Fermat's Last Theorem (1996)

Fermat's Last Theorem coverEdition: Viking, 1997
Review number: 102

This book is a popular history of Fermat's Last Theorem, from its original conjecture by Fermat to its solution by Andrew Wiles. As a history, it works quite well, with occasional infelicities (mainly to do with forced, false sounding connections between unrelated parts of the narrative, such as linking mathematicians because they were both interested in some fairly large division of mathematics). From a mathematical point of view, I felt it was perhaps a little less successful. It managed to be over-simplified for the mathematically trained and at the same time potentially confusing for the non-mathematician. I suppose you can assume a minimal level of interest in mathematics to be held by anyone wishing to read a book on this subject, but I'm not sure the book always reached that level. The order used to detail the contributions - and contributors to the theories involved include just about every single really famous mathematician - is neither strictly chronological nor really by mathematical subject; the book could have done with perhaps some appendices to help orient the reader who wanted to use it as a reference.

These criticisms apart - and they are fairly severe - I enjoyed the book; I wanted to go on and read more on the subject.

Tuesday 11 August 1998

C.S. Forester: Lieutenant Hornblower (1952)

Edition: Michael Joseph, 1952
Review number: 101

As indicated by the rank in the title, this is one of the earlier Hornblower novels. Fairly unusually for this series, it is told from the point of view of William Bush, beginning from their first meeting. This occurs when Bush is posted to the ship on which Hornblower is serving as third lieutenant, to become fourth when Bush arrives as his commission is of an earlier date.

It soon becomes clear that something is very wrong about the ship, and that the mind of Captain Sawyer is not what it should be. He suffers from paranoid fantasies about his officers, particularly Hornblower and the first lieutenant. These reach the point where there are discussions about declaring the captain unfit for command, but at this point he falls down a hatchway and is confined to a sickbed. (Hornblower and one of the midshipmen also victimised by the captain are the only witnesses, causing private speculation among the other officers that the fall was not wholly accidental.)

The most important aspect of the book, for itself as well as for the remainder of the series, is the establishing of the relationship between Hornblower and Bush. Although there are moments of the thriller about the book, the early days of this relationship is the focus; this is what raises this book above the run-of-the-mill. There is excitement when the ship reaches the Caribbean, and tension created by the captain's illness.

Friday 7 August 1998

Julian May: The Golden Torc (1982)

Edition: Pan, 1982
Review number: 99

The second of May's Pliocene-set Saga of the Exiles series, The Golden Torc continues from where The Many Coloured Land left off. The humans from the group focused upon in the first novel are continuing to make a large contribution to the alien society they have found themselves in. Aiken Drum is insinuating himself into the highest echelons of society; Elizabeth is trying not to let the Tanu take advantage of her newly recovered mental capacity; Richard is still seeking Mercy (who in fact has married one of the Tanu aristocracy); Claude and Felice are with the rebel "Low-Lifes".

The novel builds to a climax at the annual battle between the Tanu and Firvulag; a variety of schemes involving the different members of the group are set to come to fruition at the tournament. They are all upstaged by the actions of Felice, who causes an earthquake which breaches the straits of Gibraltar and floods the Mediterranean with water from the Atlantic (the Mediterranean being a series of salt water marshes and lagoons at around this period, apparently), sweeping away the city of Muriah where the battle is taking place.

The book is well put together, and the climax is in the best traditions of science fiction.

Thursday 6 August 1998

Robert A. Heinlein: Friday (1982)

Friday coverEdition: New English Library, 1983
Review number: 98

Somewhat unusually for Heinlein's later work, Friday contains no characters shared with any other novel or short story. It's heroine, a girl named Friday, is a special courier; she carries the sort of messages that require skills associated with the likes of James Bond to get them through.

The novel begins halfway through an assignment, with Friday recently landed from a flight to Nairobi and attempting to shake off following agents. She returns to base, only to find that it has been taken over by an enemy who captures and tortures her. A counter-attack from her own side follows, and we are well away.

Following the death of her boss, and a series of assassinations around the world causing anarchy, Friday is recruited to carry out an assignment carrying a fertilised embryo across space to a royal couple on one of Earth's colonies; realising half-way there that this is the sort of mission that generally brings a quiet death at its end rather than a reward, she determines to escape from the ship.

This is an enjoyable novel, particularly by the standards of Heinlein's later work. Friday is a reasonably believable heroine. The torture sequence is not for the squeamish.

Wednesday 5 August 1998

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The Love-Girl and the Innocent (1969)

The Love-Girl and the Innocent coverTranslation: Nicholas Bethell and David Burg, 1969
Edition: Penguin, 1969
Review number: 97

Like much of Solzhenitsyn's work, this play has distinct autobiographical features. The play is also known as "The Greenhorn and the Camp-Whore", which is a rather more punchy but less poetic way of translating the Russian title, Olen' i Salisovka.

The main character, and the one who clearly resembles Solzhenitsyn himself, is an army captain named Rodion Nemov. He has been sent to the camp straight from the Second World War front line for one of the political offences that were so easy to commit, and doesn't yet understand anything about how the camp system worked.

Because of his military rank, one of the first things that happens is that he is put in charge of the camp during a temporary absence of the commandant. By his naiveté and desire for justice he manages to alienate the various power structures within the camp. (These have mainly grown up through bribery, corruption, theft of materials.) He ends up accused of the very crime of corruption he has been trying to stamp out.

Assigned to the foundry, Nemov meets Lyuba Nyegnevistskaya, one of the women prisoners. She introduces him to the further degradations practiced upon the female prisoners - the one thing they can use to improve their lot is their sexuality.

The play is clearly important in Solzhenitsyn's development; it semms to be the first place that he writes about the prison camp system as another country within the Soviet Union, the theme that later turned into the multi-volume Gulag Archipelago. It's fairly early, and conforms to the trend that his early work is better and less obsessive than his later work.

Maurice Ashley: England in the Seventeenth Century (1952)

Edition: Penguin
Review number: 96

The Pelican English history series reaches the Stuarts. This particular volume takes each reign in turn, looking at the social, economic and art history of the period as well as the political (as does each volume in the series).

In some ways this is a more balanced book about the Stuart period than either The Stuarts or The Early Churchills; it doesn't have an axe to grind or a group of people to praise. Particularly from the economic and social points of view, the period calls out for longer, more detailed treatment than was possible here; many important trends saw their beginnings in the Stuart era and there is much argument about the causes and meanings of these beginnings. (The Marxist analysis of the Civil War by Christopher Hill is a good example - though I found many of his conclusions unconvincing - of a new way of looking at a war usually considered religious/political through economic/social eyes as part of the rise of the bourgeouisie).

Considering the limitations of space and the necessity of being accessible to a wide audience, this is another success.

Monday 3 August 1998

Anthony Trollope: The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

Edition: Everyman, 1993
Review number: 95

The final novel of the popular Barset series contains one of Trollope's strongest characters, as well as affectionate farewells to many of those readers have come to know in earlier novels. The major character is Mr Crawley, who is a minor character in Framley Parsonage; he is the extremely poor and inflexible curate who points Mr Robarts on the right way.

In The Last Chronicle, Mr Crawley is accused of stealing when a cheque belonging to the Duke of Omnium, dropped by the Duke's steward during or after a visit to Mr Crawley, is cashed by a tradesman to whom Mr Crawley owes money at his bank.

Mr Crawley is unable to account for the money, and so is brought before the magistrates and committed for trial. The scandal this creates brings down upon him the redoubtable anger of Mrs Proudie, the bishop's wife.

The important thing about Mr Crawley, which makes him by far the most interesting character in the novel sequence, is that he has a tendency toward madness, which starts small - his absent-mindedness about money which makes it impossible to remember where the cheque came from - and grows, tormenting him and his family and friends. In the opinion of the introduction to this edition, he grows almost to the stature of a Lear under the strain; that is perhaps a little exaggerated, but he is such a centre of interest that the chapters dealing with the continuing resolution of the "love story" at the centre of The Small House at Allington are read with impatience to get back to the main interest.