The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chronicling Barchester

In writing my own Trollope pastiche, now titled Phineas at Bay, I brought back into the mix the scoundrelly Rev. Emilius, lately married to Lady Eustace. However I wanted a counterpoint to this rascal, and bethought myself of the son of Archdeacon Grantly, Samuel, called "Soapy Sam," as he is a parody of Samuel Wilberforce, a High Churchman of the Tractarians' generation. Here is Trollope's description of Samuel in The Warden (1855):
But perhaps Samuel was the general favourite; and dear little Soapy, as he was familiarly called, was as engaging a child as ever fond mother petted. He was soft and gentle in his manners, and attractive in his speech; the tone of his voice was melody, and every action was a grace; unlike his brothers, he was courteous to all, he was affable to the lowly, and meek even to the very scullery-maid. He was a boy of great promise, minding his books and delighting the hearts of his masters. His brothers, however, were not particularly fond of him; they would complain to their mother that Soapy's civility all meant something; they thought that his voice was too often listened to at Plumstead Episcopi, and evidently feared that, as he grew up, he would have more weight in the house than either of them; there was, therefore, a sort of agreement among them to put young Soapy down. This, however, was not so easy to be done; Samuel, though young, was sharp; he could not assume the stiff decorum of Charles James, nor could he fight like Henry; but he was a perfect master of his own weapons, and contrived, in the teeth of both of them, to hold the place which he had assumed. Henry declared that he was a false, cunning creature; and Charles James, though he always spoke of him as his dear brother Samuel, was not slow to say a word against him when opportunity offered. To speak the truth, Samuel was a cunning boy, and those even who loved him best could not but own that for one so young he was too adroit in choosing his words, and too skilled in modulating his voice.
Now, as Samuel was modeled on a bishop, it seemed to me, why not make him achieve the rank of one in later life? In the 1890s (when Phineas at Bay is set) , Samuel, born roughly in 1840-1845, would be just the right age to be one. And what better see for him to have than his grandfather's see of Barchester?

But I envision Samuel as having improved much since childhood, through association with his grandfather--and of having been, through the influence of his uncle, Mr. Arabin, one of that interesting second wave of Anglo-Catholics, such as Charles Gore, whose High Church piety coexisted with a social liberalism, and passionate belief in social justice. That made him an effective counterpoint to Emilius. It then occurred to me that, being about ten years older than Gore, the fictional Grantly would be just the right age to get caught up in the ritualism controversies of the late 1870s. And this, in turn, could give me another story to tell, after that of Phineas, or even alongside it, should I try to continue my sojourn in Trollope-land. And a story came to hand.

However, when I heard a couple of weeks ago about Ronald Knox's Barchester Pilgrimage (1934), an earlier continuation of the Barchester stories, and obtained a copy, I was saddened to see a brief appearance of "Samuel Grantley" (Knox adopts an alternative spelling that Trollope sometimes used) as--you guessed it!--Bishop of Barchester. Still, he is drawn in that cameo appearance as a rather unattractive figure, consistent with the worst of the childhood description. So I am not considering myself bound by Knox's tales, entertaining though they are; I view them as non-canonical. Some of his spade-work I may adopt--his classic map of Barchester, and some of his family trees, say, but he goes well beyond where I intend to go chronologically in Barchester, and in a very different direction.

And Samuel Grantly? His story is hinted at in Phineas at Bay; if that works out to my own satisfaction, I may move on to The Book of Samuel.

No comments: