Anthony Trollope - Which book should I read first?
September 20, 2015 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to start making my way through Anthony Trollope's work but I have no idea where to start. The man wrote 47 novels. He has series and standalone novels and I don't want to choose a subpar work as my first Trollope.

I started He Knew He was Right years ago and had gotten about two hundred pages in when my e-reader died and I lost my place. By the time I got a new e-reader, I'd moved on to other books. I'm not opposed to going back to HKHWR but I'd like to know what you all recommend.
posted by Constance Mirabella to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The Palliser novels!!! So much hand-wringing over jilting, so much agonizing over Parliament! Although I might actually start with The Eustace Diamonds in that series; there's something about all the drama surrounding Lizzie that I found entirely gripping. It's like some big, shallow, excitingly gossipy beach novel that just happened to be written a century and a half ago.

If you don't want to dive into a series, though, I think the way to go is The Way We Live Now. It hits so many of our own current preoccupations, the worship of unearned wealth, the confusion of financial speculation, the terror once everything starts to's a fine and suspenseful portrayal.
posted by mittens at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I absolutely loved The Palliser series. Each of the novels can really stand on its own, but I did start with the first one, Can You Forgive Her? And I really enjoyed it.

What amazed me about Trollope was the sophistication of his insight into character's motives, more than any page-turning plot points, but I was gripped by all of the novels and sad when I reached the end.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with The Way We Live Now as a good first choice. I've read many of his novels and that's the one that sticks with me. There's a good miniseries, too, if that's of interest.

I get easily bored by complex politics or religious stuff so I haven't read a lot of the Barchester series. Think about what you really like to read--there's a lot of options in Trollope, whether you prefer tragedy, romance, scandal, comedy, or all of the above.
posted by chaiminda at 9:13 AM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I actually suggest starting with The Warden, the first of the six Barsetshire novels! It's short, it's a great primer for Trollopian interests generally (how systems/institutions shape individual character, possibilities for negotiating those supra-individual pressures, romance as a kind of social pressure-valve), and there are kernels of the comedy and poignant character sketching that have already been pointed out in this thread in later works like the Palliser novels.
posted by Hellgirl at 9:23 AM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I would totally recommend starting with Can You Forgive Her, which kicks off the Palliser novels. That's what got me hooked.

The Way We Live Now is another easy one to start with, but it's huge.

For a short, standalone book with a lot of the same themes as the big series, I really enjoyed The Claverings.
posted by Mchelly at 10:43 AM on September 20, 2015

Best answer: Trollope! You should definitely read Trollope!

Stand-alone novels: definitely The Way We Live Now (which overlaps with Dickens' Little Dorrit, both in theme and an identical inspiration for a key villain). Also return to He Knew He Was Right. I'd also suggest Lady Anna and Ralph the Heir (even though Trollope himself didn't like that last...). Of the shorter novels, maybe Dr. Wortle's School (don't be put off by the title). Trollope's short fiction is quite good, and Oxford's World's Classics has reprinted all of it.

Between the Palliser and Barchester novels, I'd attempt the Pallisers first--unless you're really into church politics, in which case, by all means the Barchester novels. (They're also terrific, but I've found that of the two series, it's harder going for non-Victorianists.)
posted by thomas j wise at 10:51 AM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with Hellgirl; my wife and I started with the Barchester novels and are very much looking forward to the Pallisers. (Neither of us is into church politics, but it doesn't matter because the church politics is just a Maguffin to explore the relationships between the characters; Trollope doesn't care about the details of what a prebend does any more than you do.)
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2015

I started with Barchester Towers, which might seem an odd place, but I still think it has the most sparkle and wit of his books. The main disadvantage is that much of the setup of the story is in The Warden, although a short summary is enough to get basically up to speed (capsule version: Eleanor is rich and her father, despite being very well-intentioned and well-loved, ended up ousted from his very pleasant sinecure at Hiram's Hospital).

I liked The Warden well enough, but it's honestly not as good as Barchester Towers. Both the Barsetshire and Palliser novels have a number of stories that are basically standalone, though. Doctor Thorne is pleasantly pastoral/romantic rather than heavily satirical, and barely makes use of any characters from the previous two books (it's not even very ecclesiastical-flavored). Framley Parsonage also stands well on its own, although it makes liberal use of characters established in the first two books. The Eustace Diamonds is a madcap comedy of society scandal which mostly lives independently of the overarching Palliser plot-thread.

As a word of warning, Trollope was excessively fond of venery and many of his stories suffer from what I cacophemistically call "venereal disease": occasionally the plots grind to a halt so that everyone can go hunt foxes. On rare occasions, something of actual significance happens in the fox-hunting chapter, so you can't necessarily skip right over it.
posted by jackbishop at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Way We Live Now. If you have any exposure at all to the financial markets, it will make for interesting reading.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:48 AM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

My introduction to Trollope came via the BBC adaptation, The Barchester Chronicles (which you can now buy on DVD). Made in 1982, it's a lot slower-moving than it would be nowadays, but it does boast four stellar performances from Donald Pleasence (Mr Harding), Alan Rickman (Mr Slope), Nigel Hawthorne (Archdeacon Grantly) and Geraldine McEwan (Mrs Proudie). Still a good way into Trollope, I think.

The Warden is shorter than most of the other novels, the cast of characters is smaller, and the plot is a fairly simple one. A crusading journalist starts a campaign for a fairer society, but the price of doing so is that he has to hurt some good and decent people. Basically, it's the story of a media campaign that gets out of control -- a theme which still resonates today even if you know nothing and care less about the Church of England.
posted by verstegan at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Start with the Palliser novels ("Can You Forgive Her?") The Barsetshire ones (sometimes called "The Barchester Chronicles") are silly fluff, only tolerable once you've read some of his better novels. And consider starting out with the audiobook versions narrated by Timothy West- they're better than reading the novels.

I love Trollope, but "The Warden" is really dull. I wouldn't start with it. It was the first one I read, but I had other reasons to keep reading.
posted by JeanDupont at 12:32 AM on September 21, 2015

Agree with all those who suggest either the Palliser series (begin with Can you Forgive Her) or, as a stand alone read, The Way We Live Now. If this seems too ambitious, try the short romance Miss Mackenzie; I've loaned it to several people as a Trollope-starter and gotten good feedback.

It took me years of reading and enjoying Trollope before attempting the Barchester series, and frankly I found The Warden a tough little read, oddly unengaging; I put it down two or three times; but once you're through it and have got the main characters, the remainder of the series is sublime. So glad to see on here that Trollope is still being read!
posted by henry scobie at 4:18 AM on September 21, 2015

> The Barsetshire ones (sometimes called "The Barchester Chronicles") are silly fluff, only tolerable once you've read some of his better novels.

No they're not; please don't treat your personal reactions as the word from the mountaintop.
posted by languagehat at 10:04 AM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

For single novels, I also adore Marion Fay, Ayala's Angel (watch for a mistake in the plot!), and The Belton Estate.

I started, myself, with The Eustace Diamonds, which is in the middle of the Palliser series, but really, you don't need to know that much about those characters, as they are mostly secondary in that book.
posted by JanetLand at 12:06 PM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. I think I'll read The Way We Live Now because I don't want to start a series right now.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 9:29 PM on September 21, 2015

I'm glad this thread is still open, because my wife and I have finished the Barchester novels and started the Pallisers, and so far (we're still on the endless Can You Forgive Her?) we prefer the Barchesters. There is hardly a single person in the book we're reading now that you can both like and admire; the women are weak and/or foolish and the men are brutes, with one exception who apparently will turn out to be the Shining Hero. I expect the series will get better as we go on, but I repeat my earlier recommendation of the Barchesters even more strongly: they go from strength to strength.
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on August 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

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