01 September 2011

Barchester Towers

So familiar isn’t it? In Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (I am but ¼ of the way through) the bishopric of Barchester goes to Dr. Proudie though Dr. Grantly, the son of the recently deceased bishop, fully expected and was deserving to receive the appointment. Unfortunately for him, a change in the party in power resulted in the seat being awarded to a candidate more in political sympathy with the new party in power. Competence and sentiment had nothing to do with it. And to be honest, even Grantly desires the bishopric because he did “desire to play first fiddle; he did desire to sit in full lawn sleeves among the peers of the realm; and he did desire, if the truth must out, to be called “My Lord” by his reverend brethren.” Yes, position is mostly about pride and vanity. 
The newly appointed bishop, Dr. Proudie, brings with him his own chaplain, Dr. Slope, who in his first public sermon vows to replace all of the traditional practices of the town with the more contemporary religious beliefs. That is, speaking for the Bishop, Slope announces the end to all precedent and to the imposition of a new, foreign, even hostile order for which the people care not at all. Then Slope insists that Mr. Harding, the administrator of Hiram’s Hospital, a retirement home for older and poorer men, to institute a Sabbath requirement, a Sabbath school, to paint the premises inside and out every so many years, take out the garbage, and to accept a sharply reduced income. “Work is now required from every man who receives wages; and they have to superintend the doing of work, and the paying of wages, are bound to see that this rule is carried out.” It is not the idea of work that truly disturbs him though the job had been rather pleasantly easy up until now; rather, “any antipathies of which his heart was susceptible, were directed against those new, busy, uncharitable, self-lauding men, of whom Mr. Slope was so good an example.” You see, conservative as he might be, Harding despised Republicans and Tea Party members. 
When Dr. Harding refuses to accede to the new requirements and conditionsthis was wormwood to himSlope replaces him with a candidate more amenable to his demands. That is, Slope advocates for Quiverful until Dr. Slope discovers that Mr. Harding’s widowed daughter receives £1200 per annum. At which time he decides that Eleanor Bold might make an excellent wife, and to facilitate his courting of her he advocates to the Bishop that Harding be re-employed as warden of the hospital even under the older conditions and that the new candidate be sacked. Slope has no sincere principles really. 
You see, politics and personal aggrandizement motivates the characters and not concern for the public weal or the integrity of any profession. Indeed, the personal and the political seem here coincident and they are both quite dangerous: for these figures the public serves merely as a screen on which to project their own avaricious visions and desires as they grasp for power. And what occurs in Barchester has nothing to do with sincere belief or civic improvement: vanity and cupidity motivate action. So, too, does it seem in education today: nay, madam, I know not seems. The conversation is all about who can grasp the most power and demand subservience from the greatest number of subordinates. The question of the day is not how to improve education but with whom should this one sleep to attain greater power. 
No, politics doesn’t make strange bedfellows: it is strange fellows who believe that getting into bed with those with whom they deeply disagree will make for a night’s sleep or a good lay. 


Post a Comment

<< Home