Best Book of the Week!
In this third of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles, the main character, Doctor Thorne, is presented with a dilemma. The outcome of the novel is fairly easy to predict, but the pleasure is in getting there.
Trollope begins the novel by explaining the situation of the Greshams of Greshambury, a proud but declining family. Squire Gresham has done his best to waste the family fortune, aided by his wife, Lady Arabella. When the novel begins, it is an acknowledged fact among Lady Arabella and her de Courcy relatives that young Frank Gresham, just of age, must marry money. Unfortunately for their plans, Frank has just declared himself to Mary Thorne, Doctor Thorne’s niece, who hasn’t a penny.
Mary has not encouraged Frank. In fact, she believes he is too young and injudicious to make such a decision. She refuses to listen to him, but she does begin to wonder about her own position, for she knows nothing about her own parentage. She has been brought up by Doctor Thorne to have a pride in breeding without understanding her own.
In truth, the story is not a good one. Her mother was the respectable sister of a stone mason until Doctor Thorne’s disreputable brother seduced her with promises of marriage. When Mary Scatcherd got an opportunity to marry and leave the country—only without her daughter—Doctor Thorne promised to raise the child as his own. This he has done without the knowledge of Roger Scatcherd, the child’s other uncle, who is now a wealthy member of parliament.
Doctor Thorne has continued to treat Roger Scatcherd, but he fears the man’s dedication to drink will soon put him in his grave. Since Scatcherd’s son Louis looks to follow in his footsteps, Doctor Thorne thinks that neither of them will live long. So, he is taken aback when Scatcherd confides that he will put his money in trust for Louis until he is 25, but if both of them die, he leaves his fortune to his sister Mary’s oldest child. Doctor Thorne urges Scatcherd to be more particular, because of course Mary’s oldest child is his own girl, Mary Thorne, whom Scatcherd thinks died as a child.
In any case, the Greshams find that Frank cannot be dissuaded from Mary Thorne. Although Mary has been raised with their daughter and is the best friend of Beatrice Gresham, Arabella banishes her from the house and eventually asks Beatrice not to see her. When Doctor Thorne, already sore because Mary is being punished for something she didn’t encourage, realizes that Mary actually does love Frank, he thinks it will all come right but is unable to tell anyone so because perhaps it will not.
Doctor Thorne is written in a different vein from the first two Barsetshire novels. For one, it is looking at a different strata of people. Some of the characters from the other novels are mentioned but do not appear. To be frank, I missed the delicacy of good old Mr. Harding. Dr. Thorne is rougher but no less principled, though. I did not enjoy as much the descriptions of Scatcherd’s doings, but after a while, I got to like Dr. Thorne and be interested in the outcome.