112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Trollope’s Barchester Towers: Cathedrals, Halls, Hospitals, and Houses

Patricia Michele Robinson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This paper argues that in Trollope’s Barchester Towers, only characters who are willing to limit themselves in decorating their homes, but display good taste, are fit to preach in major historical buildings of the church and to oversee the creation of new ecclesiastical spaces.


Anthony Trollope draws the reader’s attention to the tallest buildings in the community and to how these structures organize life in the very title of his 1857 work, Barchester Towers. From the first scene onwards, church position, status, and power are determined through who has the right to inhabit, speak, and preach in specific ecclesiastical buildings. Spaces become more than physical manifestations of the hierarchy of the clergy, however, as Trollope depicts the major characters in the novel unconsciously displaying their moral status in terms of the choices they make about how to decorate their homes and what kind of worship experience they choose in the church space under their control. Gay Sibley argues, in “The Spectrum of ‘Taste’ in Barchester Towers” that both Austen and Trollope “view … ‘taste’ as morality” (38). Although Sibley primarily discusses having good taste in terms of having good manners, Sibley does point to an example of a morally-lacking character’s bad decorating taste without following this view of household taste as indicative of moral worth to its logical conclusion. In this paper, I would like to examine how the Grantlys, Hardings, Proudies, and Mr. Arabin reveal key aspects of their psychology and morality in the ways they display their ‘taste’ in homes. Ultimately I will argue that only characters who are willing to discipline themselves and sacrifice their desire for nice things, despite having refined tastes, are fit to preach in major historical buildings of the church and to oversee the creation of new ecclesiastical spaces. Characters who invite others regularly into their homes, improve their surroundings, and do not spend up to or over their income are able to create a unique kind of spiritual experience, one that is invited by the ornate, historical building that is Barchester Cathedral and one that improves the simple but warm atmosphere of the parish of St. Cuthbert’s.