And now, if the reader will allow me to seize him affectionately by the arm, we will together take our last farewell of Barset and of the towers of Barchester. I may not venture to say to him that, in this country, he and I together have wandered often through the country lanes, and have ridden together over the too well-wooded fields, or have stood together in the cathedral nave listening to the peals of the organ, or have together sat at good men's tables, or have confronted together the angry pride of men who were not good. I may not boast that any beside myself have so realised the place, and the people, and the facts, as to make such reminiscences possible as those which I should attempt to evoke by an appeal to perfect fellowship. But to me Barset has been a real county, and its city a real city, and the spires and towers have been before my eyes, and the voices of the people are known to my ears, and the pavement of the city ways are familiar to my footsteps. To them all I now say farewell. That I have been induced to wander among them too long by my love of old friendships, and by the sweetness of old faces, is a fault for which I may perhaps be more readily forgiven, when I repeat, with solemnity of assurance, the promise made in my title, that this shall be the last chronicle of Barset.
I've just finished "The Last Chronicle of Barset," by Anthony Trollope, the conclusion of a series of six novels all set in and around the fictional county of Barsetshire. Trollope hesitates to assume that Barsetshire is as real to his readers as it has become for him, but he's too modest in that. I confess that I actually teared up when I came to these final lines and wanted to protest that the end had come too soon, that I wanted it to go on forever.
Certain writers build a world for their readers to inhabit, but how do they do it? Barsetshire seems "real" to me, but it's a mistake to assume as some do, that this can only be done with a meticulous realism in the rendering. Trollope is forever breaking the illusion by addressing his reader directly, and discussing the merits and flaws of the novel they're reading:
Of her personal appearance it certainly is my business as an author to say something. She is my heroine, and, as such, must necessarily be very beautiful; but, in truth, her mind and inner qualities are more clearly distinct to my brain than her outward form and features. -- from Doctor Thorne
I know it will be said of Lord Lufton himself that, putting aside his peerage and broad acres, and handsome, sonsy face, he was not worth a girl's care and love. That will be said because people think that heroes in books should be so much better than heroes got up for the world's common wear and tear. I may as well confess that of absolute, true heroism there was only a moderate admixture in Lord Lufton's composition; but what would the world come to if none but absolute true heroes were to be thought worthy of women's love? What would the men do? and what -- oh! what would become of the women? -- from Framley Parsonage
Not only is Trollope pausing to discuss the merits of his characters as characters, he's referring to the form itself, by mocking the conventions of the novel at that time. Modernist critics came to regard this sort of thing as execrable, an opinion adapted in part from Henry James, who disliked Trollope's interruptions. If written today, these techniques would probably be labeled "postmodern trickery" by historically ignorant critics; in truth, postmodernism often seems like a resumption of the narrative freedoms that fiction writers enjoyed before the regime of modernism became pervasive.
Trollope can be witty, but he's not a exquisite stylist, and his reputation declined after his death when his autobiography revealed him to be something of a writing machine; this didn't jibe with the emerging desire to conceive of the novelist as an artist rather than merely an entertainer.
Still, Barsetshire feels real, much as Narnia felt real to me as a child. Trollope makes a world despite his deficiencies of craft and his cheerful refusal to revere the illusion of realism, just as Lewis (or Tolkien) manage to do it in spite of the "unrealistic" nature of the worlds their books describe.