Dear friends and readers,
I am embarked on reading Framley Parsonage with about 30 adults (mostly retired older people) at an OLLI at George Mason University. I am enjoying the novel immensely and hope my “students” are too (probably an inappropriate noun considering its connotations as there are no exams, no essays, no certificates). How intimate the feeling Trollope creates. How he captures the rhythms of daily life as he seeks to write down all around him what is daily and he feels and sees in order to produce this so alive novel quickly.
To begin with (the term), I found myself expatiating upon what is a sequel last week and thought as sequels are so ubiquitous in this year (2015), not just of an original work, but re-boots of adaptations and sequels forty years on, I would write about sequels and what I was surprised to discover is so about Framley Parsonage. Perhaps this will interest a few readers and viewers of film adaptations, say Barchester Chronicles.
Everybody who knows anything about Trollope’s life and career knows it was Thackeray who prompted the writing of Framley Parsonage. Trollope was just then writing Castle Richmond and he had several of his early traveler’s tales available for placement. He was startled and surprised to discover the Cornhill, preceded by a buzz and hum which made it the equivalent of the New Yorker in the 1950s, had yet to secure a central part of its offering: using Fielding’s metaphor in Tom Jones, of a meal, they were without la pièce de résistance, the central irresistible chocolate and wine of a novel. In reply to Thackeray, Trollope offered short stories he had just written; he offered Castle Richmond. In a superlatively courteous reply (“My dear Trollope”), Thackeray declined and said what they wanted was another of those clerical Barsetshire stories. So Trollope set about to produce two novels at once. (If English people didn’t want to hear about the famine and Ireland, the rest of Europe did, it was published separately around the time of FP and quickly translated into 5 languages.) FP made Trollope, and on the strength of his new income, he moved to just outside London to be part of the literary world at last. In 1859 August we find him leasing Waltham House in Hertfordshire just outside London. He lived there for several years, until his income began to fall off (well after he had quit his post office job since he did before he became eligible for a pension). Nonetheless, or more than ever (he needed money now), still working for post office, and famously getting up at 4:30 (Barney, his Irish servant woke him) and writing 4 hours or so before going off to directly remunerated work; he had a traveling writer’s desk made for him so he could write while in railway carriages. Think of it as a laptop without connectivity.
The Cornhill, a central organ of mass print media in the Victorian period, its first number in fact. The Cornhill‘s mission was in part to present an image of acceptable middle to upper class life (not the reality, an idealization of reality, omitting much that was unpleasant to them, like dealing with real servants, city life); its readership could congratulate themselves upon belonging to what produced would be in good taste and the latest politics, information. The title of the first chapter was a Latin tag; someone who could not recognize that tag was a fringe person.
The book is very much a sequel, conceived as a sequel to three books Trollope had written in the near past — as ordered: The Warden (1852-53), Barchester Towers (1856) and Dr Thorne (1857), let us remember just three out of ten novels Trollope had written and published since 1845. Barchester Towers, No 2 and Dr Thorne, No 3, the second and third of these Barsetshire book were not only commercial successes, but had become identifiable Victorian-style middle class novels, and not to have read Barchester Towers especially was like not to have heard of say Downton Abbey in the last three years – where have you been, my dear? You might not have read BT or seen DA, but you should know something about it, get the references, the jokes. I’ve never watched The Sopranos and probably never will, but I know enough about it not to look unknowing when it’s brought up. Barsetshire was nearly a form of social currency, social capital, part of the habitas of cultural references. Framley Parsonage clinched it, and partly unfortunately for Trollope defined him evermore in a wider complacent public eye.
Sequels come in so many forms nowadays I thought I should try to distinguish this one: there are prequels: what transpired before. There are appropriations: you transpose the story and character to another country or era. There are analogies or free adaptations, where the central outline of a plot and the central archetypal character patterns are recognizable, plus a few idiosyncratic scenes or complications. Modern dress: Bridget Jones’s Diary out of Pride and Prejudice through the film adaptatio of 1995 by Andrew Davies. There are commentaries as films: you produce the story with changes which critique it. The post-modern, often post-colonialist new perspective: you retell Defoe’s story of Robinson Crusoe from Friday’s point of view (Foe); you retell RLS’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde from the maid living in the house, and you have Valerie Martin and Stephen Frears’ Mary Reilly, a historical novel in its own right, not belonging just to the RLS franchise (as Jo Baker’s Longbourn does not move outside Austenland). Gone with the Wind from a girl household slave like Prissy. Those who know GWTW well or the movie may remember Prissy’s famous outcry when asked to help Melanie, a secondary heroine, give birth: “Ah, don’t know nuthin’ bout birthin’ Miss Scarlet.” A black person in that audience would not have jeered at her for that utterance. The Wind Done Gone retells GWTW from the perspective of a black female household slave. Or you retell the familiar Tudor matter from the point of view of a man hitherto made into a villain, Thomas Cromwell, only you make him a hero; voila, Hilary Mantel and Peter Staughan’s Wolf Hall.
My plan was to say that Framley Parsonage corresponded to a primary type: the continuation (the closest I can think of in recent Jane Austen sequels is P.D. James’s Death comes to Pemberley, Darcy and Elizabeth 7 years on). A continuation is a novel which continues the story of a group of characters in a book or books after that book or those books have ended. There has thus far been one for Trollope: John Wirenius’s Phineas at Bay: it has centrally recurring characters who live in a single connected imaginary space. It is in Framley Parsonage that Trollope begins to connect up all the places he had mentioned in the first three novels, The Warden, Barchester Towers and Dr Thorne, and Wirenius continues the Barsetshire-Palliser stories after The Duke’s Children closes, through the upper class conservative perspective of Simon Raven, which has become identified as Trollope country. It is just one territory of it I’d say.
The problem I discover is Framley Parsonage doesn’t really. It does not continue the stories of the first or second book or even the third: Dr Thorne. We meet only some of the characters we have met in the first three novels but it’s not their story; they swirl around the main story. The main story gives us wholly new characters and suddenly fills out a hitherto blank space (had we realized there is a map) in Barsetshire: Framley Court and Parsonage and their inhabitants. A few character recur: most important, the ironic festival, frolic charactrer, Miss Dunstable; and Dr Thorne, Archbishop and Mrs Grantly, not to omit Griselda (now the name is become ironic), and the biological son of the Duke of Omnium (returned), now named Lord Dumbello, by the Marquise of Hartletop; Mr Harding appears in order to expose the moral horror Griselda represents. The Rev Josiah Crawley was mentioned as Mr Arabin’s friend of deep integrity, high intelligence, sincere religious belief, to whose poorly paid curacy in Cornwall Mr Arabin would go when he needed uplife. But now he comes on stage and is central to the serious themes of the book:
John Everett Millais, The Crawley Family (from the original illustrations)
The best we can do is call it a traditional sequel because the basic point of view remains the same and the story of some of them carry on and they are in the same imaginary space.
We fall back on how we define a series, or roman fleuve: it has centrally recurring characters who live in a single connected imaginary space. It is in Framley Parsonage that Trollope begins to connect up all the places he had mentioned in the first three novels, The Warden, Barchester Towers and Dr Thorne. So it’s a sequel because it clinches the series using the map, some recurring characters, and themes — the egregious injustice in the way clergyman were chosen and paid.
By contrast, the once called Parliamentary (as the Parliament is central to them all) and now Palliser books (since the books were adapted using Simon Raven’s scripts 1974-75), a second set of six novels which came out of the Barsetshire map and some of its key characters (Duke of Omnium) was meant to be a series and does have a central couple whose story is told over 6 books. Each Palliser book has separate characters and stories who are central to that book too, and most of the time like a soap opera they drift off; in the imaginary of the soap opera world, you can call them back, but they more of less vanished, merely heard about occasionally,and the on-going recurring Palliser group ages and matures, and the imaginary space, now Barsetshire on the trainline into London and its 12 novel chronology is more less consistent. So too Downton Abbey (I was struck how in Season 5 we are told Gwen a maid we met in Season 1 and left the abbey to be a secretary has now married). The later series takes us into our contemporary world.
Feodor Vasilyev (1850-73), St Petersburgh Illuminated (1869) — the modern city
This blog serves to point up how the Barsetshire series was not planned as a series. Framley Parsonage (the fourth, which resembles the fourth in other recognizable roman fleuves or sagas, like Warleggan in the Poldark series) lovingly fills in and tries to make consistent and meaningful the map of Barsetshire for the first time. It is about about the ubiquity of sequels or post-texts in our era. Comments and thoughts on post-texts in our time invited – re-booting is nowadays a popular term for re-done film adaptations.