English Hours

MOST READERS today know the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) through his stories of English clerical and political life. Yet Trollope, a prolific writer and one of the 19th century's foremost exponents of literary realism, excelled in the portrayal of human psychology, especially that of ordinary people standing up for what they believe to be right. Consider two examples: The Vicar of Bullhampton (1869) and Dr. Wortle's School (1881).

In the first novel, the Rev. Frank Fenwick, vicar of the village of Bullhampton, faces a scandal in his parish: A local girl, Carry Brattle, has been seduced and has run away. Her own father is one of those who condemns her most severely. Should Carry -- abandoned, hungry, with no money and no skills to earn a living -- be allowed to return to her family? The vicar believes she should, and does all he can to facilitate her return.

In the second, "The Rev. Jeffrey Wortle, D.D., was a man much esteemed by others -- and by himself." A clergyman and the proprietor of an exclusive preparatory school for boys, the successful and pugnacious Dr. Wortle learns that his trusted assistant in the school, also an ordained clergyman, is living with an American woman who is not his wife. Or is she? Her former husband, an unscrupulous and abusive alcoholic, may be dead. Dr. Wortle is determined to find out the truth, even though rumors fly that he has a romantic interest in the lady, and irate parents remove their sons from his school. In the face of financial ruin and social pressure, Dr. Wortle perseveres -- and at last prevails.

Note on availability: Both novels were published in the handy hardcover Oxford World's Classics series, and can occasionally be found in used book stores. In 1979 Dover reprinted The Vicar of Bullhampton in paperback. Both novels are easily found in libraries. LYS ANN SHORE Washington

Natural Selection

I RECOMMEND The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man would not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a shame that The Voyage does not enjoy a larger readership. Part scientific "whodunit," part travel book, part history of the germination of one of the truly epochal, seminal scientific ideas, it succeeds admirably on all these levels. His descriptions of parts of the Southern Hemisphere -- in those days as yet virtually unexplored -- are particularly interesting. (On the Falklands: "These miserable islands" -- and that's the nice thing he says about them!)

Anchor, NAL and Penguin publish paperback editions of The Voyage. RORY FORAN Glen Burnie

Mountain Man

THE CLOSEST we can come in this century to finding a historian who makes his pages reek of gunsmoke is to look into the work of the late Bernard DeVoto. Thousands of readers have gained insights into the life of fur traders and mountain men in his Across the Wide Missouri, and his Course of Empire raised such questions as "How did the Spaniards stand it, marching across deserts wearing those damned tin helmets and steel breastplates?" But DeVoto's best excursion into Western history was his Year of Decision: 1846, the book he opened with a quotation from Thoreau: "Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free." And he disarmed the professional historians who were ready to poiunce on him by saying: "I write for the nonexistent person called the general reader."

DeVoto throws us back in time in The Year of Decision: 1846. We learn that a newspaper printed on Jan. 1, 1846, might show a map of the United States with Texas "formally a part of that map for just three days." Before the Christmas lights of 1846 glow, the reader has marched from Missouri to the Mexican state of Chihuahua, and back home again on foot; followed the Mormons as they searched for a new Zion; watched John C. Fremont make a fool of himself; and learned what happed to a president who makes campaign promises he intends to keep. This is the story of an America that believed in itself.

Houghton Mifflin has an excellent paperback edition of Year of Decision: 1846 in print. ROBERT A. RUTLAND Charlottesville, Va.

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