Weeeelll, I didn't finish 1066: The Year of the Conquest after all this week. I'm surprised I didn't because it's only 200 pages long, but I am just over halfway. I'm reading it rather slowly, trying to keep straight people named Tostig, Stigand, Loefwulf, and Lanfranc. I'll save my comments about it for now, but I am eager to commend it to you. Let that suffice for the time being.
In the meantime, I've been listening to Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope and finished it just yesterday. I found it a very enjoyable book, read engagingly by Simon Vance. The plot revolves around the political and/or ecclesiastical maneuverings of the clergymen of Barchester Cathedral and their effects on the various relationships among themselves and their families. There are a wide array of characters: the hen-pecked Bishop Proudie and his overbearing wife; the gentle and capable ex-warden Septimus Harding and his two daughters, one a young widow, the other married to fastidious Archdeacon Grantly; the odious and manipulative golddigger Mr. Slope; the scholarly yet socially inept Mr. Arabin; the disreputable Stanhope family; and the impecunious but likable Quiverfull family (who naturally have a lot of children~fourteen, to be precise).
Written in 1857, Barchester Towers pokes fun at the opposing forces inside the Church of England at the time: the High Church traditionalists and the new Evangelicals. It's enlightening to read books that deal with the issues of the day and which were written by people who were eyewitnesses. Viewing the controversies from their vantage point rather having the events interpreted for us by a modern historian looking back brings a different perspective. Even though the book is mainly a work of fiction, Trollope's discussion of "Sabbath schools" for children of the poor and high church v. low church was interesting to me. I already had a fairly good understanding of these issues before I read Trollope's book, but it's always gratifying to read something that refreshes and cements ideas already planted in the mind.
In some ways, Barchester Towers reminds me of Dickens but without the intricate storyline and mysterious plot tangles. The story is much more straighforward and even predictable. It certainly has the amusing names, which I think are fashioned after Dickens (i.e. Mr. Quiverfull and Dr. Omicron Pi*). It also has a similar level of detail, so if Dickens isn't your thing, I don't think Trollope will be either. However, I enjoyed it and will probably give more Trollope books a try.
*Since I listened to this book, I haven't seen how the good doctor spells his last name. It could be Pi, Pye, or even Pie, I presume. I used Pi to stay with the Greek alphabet theme.