Power and Ambition

In terms of power and ambition Barchester Towers is particularly interesting since it reveals the struggle that men of the cloth must undergo when they encounter a discrepancy between their desire for position and their duties as Christians. This is most apparent perhaps at the start of the novel when the archdeacon is forced to realise that the sooner his father, the bishop, dies, the more likely he is to succeed him. Another instance of this sort of moral dilemma is that that Slope is forced to feel over his infatuation with Signora Neroni. It is also evident to the reader that Mrs. Proudie, with her desire for power, is placed in a similar position with regard to Christian ideals. Where she differs from Slope and the archdeacon, however, is that while they both at one time or another acknowledge these contradictions and at least try to impose restraints on themselves, she never even sees the hypocrisy of her behaviour, and in this respect is perhaps the most reprehensible of the novel's characters.

Quite apart from power on the level of politics and status, is that which is evinced by Signora Neroni, who uses her almost hypnotic charm over men to the full to both help and hinder them, and is in this sense very much a modern character. In the vein of woman's power over men however, she is certainly not alone in the novel, as nearly all the intrigue of the book is very closely related to the plotting of women. There is Charlotte Stanhope and the "friendship" she makes with Eleanor in order to increase her brother's chances of marriage; Mrs. Quiverful, who goes behind her husband's back in order to recruit Mrs. Proudie's help in getting him appointed warden; and then there is of course Mrs. Proudie herself of whom no more need be said I think.

On the other side of the coin there is then the bishop, who instead of using his drive to make himself powerful, uses it instead to protect himself from those who would, such as his wife and the archdeacon, putting his energies into submission with regard to the former.

Throughout the novel, the power theme is very important in the shaping of the characters' personalities. Mrs. Proudie feels she must always triumph, her husband that he must always hide from conflict or submit to the power of another stronger character. Arabin and Harding on the other hand, who show the least selfish personal motivations, are not as it might at first seem devoid of a drive towards power. What is instead the case is that Harding tries to use his drive in harmony with the unselfish views that are integral to his personality. He is therefore not free from ambition, but instead sublimates it to a personal idealism. Arabin, although in many respects similar to Harding, differs in that he doubts his own motivation for doing or wanting things, while Harding instead is ready to accept unselfishly the possibility that his way may not be the best. Thus Arabin, while unselfish, directs his ideology upon himself in a negative fashion, such as when he questions his motivation for loving Eleanor, and asks himself whether it could be on account of her money that he is attracted to her, something that the reader can instantly see to be patently ridiculous. Trollope is thus somewhat unusual in that he shows not only the positive side of his most sympathetic characters, but also delves into the more frustrated or frustrating aspects of their personalities. Finally, it is also interesting to note in a study of Trollope's depiction of the quality of unselfishness in the novel that Bertie, the most unselfish of all the novel's characters, is also the furthest removed from the conventional Victorian morality of the time.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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