If Charles Dickens is the face of Victorian Literature and the celebrity ambassador for the social reform movement, Anthony Trollope has often been spoken of as the duller and less successful novelist, whose was more conservative and less of a muckraker. However, I was recently watching an adaptation of Trollope’s work (The Barchester Chronicles, BBC, 1982) and was struck by the similarities in the two author’s portrays–or criticisms–of the British judicial system.
In fact, the Barchester Chronicles is mostly a tale about corruption in the Anglican Church and the impact of the Church reform movement on a small town where the Bishop’s son is appointed as Archdeacon, and the Archdeacon’s father-in-law is appointed as warden of the local hospital. Trouble begins when a young doctor suspects that the warden is being paid more than the standard salary as established in a certain “last will & testament.” The young man hires a lawyer to investigate, and the Archdeacon decides that a lawyer is needed to defend all three church men (Bishop, Archdeacon, and Warden) from charges of nepotism. So Archdeacon Grandly hires the best lawyer in the land: Sir Abraham Haphazard. Haphazard’s name itself suggests that Trollope, like Dickens, saw very little logic in the law in Victorian England.
The follow clip from The Barchester Chronicles dramatizes many of Dickens’ own criticism of the court. In fact, I think it brings to life Dickens’ introduction to the British legal system: “This is the Court of Chancery…which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearing out the right; which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope” (15)
*L to R: the Archdeacon, the Warden (his father-in-law), the Bishop (his father)