The Garrulous Jay – Plus Ça Change…

Publish date


This week I finished reading a book that deals with many of the key issues facing us in the UK today. It provides food for thought and carries potentially important lessons for us all.

Among the topics covered are the following:
•    Political malfeasance – this includes spurious appointments to the House of Lords through political influence
•    Environmental concerns – there is a particular focus on deforestation and the sale of land for commercialisation
•    War in Ukraine – although not addressed directly the way this plays a part in political developments here is implicit
•    Social disparity & inequality – differences between urban and rural society and their interaction with different political viewpoints are present throughout the book
•    The changing nature of wealth – the conflict between those who have generated wealth through industry and those whose wealth is inherited is an important theme
•    Fear of disease – the way in which society has to adapt to sickness and its impact on family life is clearly illustrated
•    Debt and the role of loan sharks – the threatening and exploitative practices present in this arena are explored.

What is intriguing, though, is that this is not some earnest exploration of 21st century Britain’s malaise written by a storied academic. It is a novel called Framley Parsonage, penned by Anthony Trollope and first published in the Cornhill Magazine in 1860.

It is striking how many of the big issues in Trollope’s novel still concern us today. And this is to say nothing of the more parochial preoccupations of the inhabitants of the fictional county of Barsetshire, where the novel is set.

It was the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr who in 1849 famously wrote, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. Coincidentally this was the same time at which Trollope was writing his Chronicles of Barsetshire, the first of which was published in 1855.

Rather than this being a cause for despondency and resignation, however, I see in it reasons to be positive. I derive comfort from the knowledge that we humans always have had, and always will have, things to worry about… The four horsemen are not one day going to ride off into the sunset.

I also feel a sense of optimism that as a race we have made progress over the last 163 years that would have been unimaginable to Trollope when he put down his ink pen and blotted the last page of the Framley Parsonage manuscript.

But there is another important message that comes out of Trollope’s writing, and that is the importance of humour. His books are written in a wry style that parodies the stereotypes that populate them and point up the absurdities of the institutions he seeks to criticise.

As we all go about our businesses I think it is helpful to remember that many of the challenges we face are not new and, by implication, the solutions may therefore also be found in the past. Furthermore, it is often in seeking solutions to problems that the greatest opportunities can be found.

Finally, along the way, it’s important to retain a sense of humour and not take life too seriously.