I read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House as part of a novel-reading group hosted by my friend Linda White. We read it after reading the six novels in Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series and the six in his Palliser series.
Trollope was a good storyteller. I got a lot of pleasure out of reading his novels. But reading Dickens after reading Trollope gives me an added appreciation of the greatness of Dickens.
Both Dickens and Trollope created memorable and believable characters, whom we talked about as if they were real people.
Trollope’s characters were like people I know, if the people I knew had grown up in Victorian England. The women in the reading group said Trollope was remarkable for knowing how women talked among themselves when there were no men around.
A few of the Trollope characters were completely villainous, but were mixtures of good and bad, and Trollope regarded them with amused tolerance.
Dickens’ characters were much more extreme—the good ones were much better, the bad ones were much worse, the eccentric ones were much more strange, but they all were memorable and believable.
Both Trollope and Dickens were keen social observers. Trollope was a keen observer of the middle and upper classes. In fact, one of his protagonists was a Prime Minister. But he treated the lower class as comic characters.
Dickens did not reach so high in his observations, but described the lives of the poor as sympathetically as the lives of the middle class.
He depicted characters on every level of society, from aristocrats to paupers in the slums, some caring and responsible, some hypocritical and self-deceiving and some cunning, manipulative and cruel.
He thought that no matter who you were, your moral choices made a difference, and he accordingly was much more judgmental than Trollope.