Can You Forgive Her? is the first of Trollope’s Palliser novels. Phineas Finn, which I read first, is the second. Palliser doesn’t actually appear in this novel until page 150, but then he plays an important role.
At issue in this novel are three romances, which explore the theme of who has the power in courtship and marriage. The most important is that of Alice Vavasor, and as I read her story, I couldn’t help reflecting how different it reads now. Alice is in love with and engaged to John Grey, but she feels that he is too perfect. Further, she is inclined to marry a man in politics while he prefers a retired life in the country.
As Trollope explains it, she overthinks her impending marriage. She goes on a trip to Switzerland with her cousin Kate Vavasor and Kate’s brother George. Years before, Alice was engaged to George but he somehow betrayed her and the engagement was broken off. But Kate is determined that Alice will marry George. George seems indifferent, but he frankly needs Alice’s money for a run for parliament. Slowly, though, readers learn that George is a scoundrel.
Another love triangle involves Alice’s cousin Lady Glencora. Lady Glencora is newly married to Plantagenet Palliser, the heir to the Duke of Omnium. Lady Glencora, a great heiress, is very young, and she was madly in love with Burgo Fitzgerald, a young wastrel. Her horrified relatives quickly pushed her into a marriage with Palliser, but he doesn’t have much in common with her and doesn’t know how to handle her. Lady Glencora befriends Alice and confides in her that Burgo wants her to run away with him. She is unhappy enough to be tempted.
The final love triangle is a comic one. Kate Vavasor’s Aunt Mrs. Greenow is a wealthy widow who has two suitors. Mr. Cheeseacre is a vulgar wealthy farmer who talks about his money all the time. The other is Captain Bellfield, who has some style and panache but probably isn’t a captain and has no money.
Modern audiences may have problems with some of the assumptions of this novel, but I always try to keep modern judgements out of my opinion of older novels. I found this novel interesting and especially got involved in Alice’s situation. She is so honest yet so misguided that it made her story intriguing. I was a little bored with the comic romance, although it dealt with some of the same issues as the other relationships.