Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

In this lesson we will examine Anthony Trollope's 'Barchester Towers' by summarizing the plot and then focusing on its interesting cast of characters. Then you can test your knowledge with a quiz!

Historical Context

Anthony Trollope was a novelist in the Victorian Period, which was an era that corresponded with the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and was characterized by strict social and sexual morals. Barchester Towers, published in 1857, was, in some sense, a sequel to Trollope's previous novel called The Warden. Both novels would be part of a six-novel series titled The Chronicles of Barsetshire. To put it another way, The Warden introduced a particular society from which subsequent novels in the series spun off. Barchester Towers is connected to the previous novel not only through a shared setting, but even more importantly by Eleanor Bold, who is the heroine of both novels.

Anthony Trollope
Anthony Trollope

A Brief Summary

The main plot of Barchester Towers concerns the controversy about who will be the new Warden of Barchester. There are several candidates and opposing sides scheme against one another. In addition, this search is related to the novel's romantic plot, for winning the hand of Eleanor Bold will have great political ramifications for any potential warden. In The Warden, Eleanor had married John Bold, but we learn in Barchester Towers that Bold has died. Thus, the search begins for a new husband. Three suitors emerge for Eleanor's hand: Obadiah Slope, Bertie Stanhope, and Francis Arabin. Eventually, and after much intrigue, Arabin and Eleanor are married, and peace is restored to Barchester.

Cast of Characters

The novel's main characters are arguably Eleanor and Arabin. However, they have very few dimensions and exist just to be good and to move the plot forward. Their union at the end of the novel is expected throughout, though they must navigate the whims and machinations of other characters before they may marry.

The most interesting characters in Barchester Towers are Obadiah Slope and Madeline Stanhope. Obadiah Slope is a duplicitous man who gains favor for the wardenship. He is supported by the Proudie family, but eventually it is revealed that he is scheming and untrustworthy.

Residents of Barchester learn the truth through the efforts of Madeline Stanhope, who had recently moved into town with her family. Madeline had earlier been married to an Italian man. Not only did he leave her, however, but she was also badly injured following an accident. In Barchester, Madeline (who goes by Signora Neroni in polite company) is carried around on a couch by servants. She is extraordinary beautiful and ensnares men (and women) into revealing their true selves. This is what happens to Slope, who cannot resist Madeline's charms, even when he is actively pursuing Eleanor.

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