Review 2063: Can You Forgive Her?

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.

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Review 2004: Classics Club Spin Result! Phineas Finn

When I put Phineas Finn on my Classics Club list, I was just looking for a book by Trollope that I hadn’t read. I didn’t realize it was the second of the Palliser novels, so now I’m going to have to go back and read the first.

Against the advice of his father and his mentor, Mr. Low, Phineas Finn has been persuaded by friends to run for Parliament even though he has just recently finished his law studies. The difficulty is that he has no money and Parliamentary representatives aren’t paid, so his father, who is a country doctor, will have to continue to support him unless he can get a paid government position.

Nevertheless, he goes ahead and gets “elected” as member for an Irish pocket borough, where the lord who awards it has feuded with his son, the incumbent. So, Phineas begins his career.

One of his friends who has encouraged him in politics is Lady Laura Standish, a young woman who takes a great interest in politics. Although she had some fortune, she gave it away to her brother, Lord Chiltern, to pay off his debts in the hopes he can reconcile with his father, the Earl of Brentford. Both the Earl and Lady Laura are encouraging about Phineas’s career, and Phineas finds himself in love with Lady Laura. However, he has a rival, Mr. Kennedy, who is stiff and formal but very rich.

The novel details Phineas’s Parliamentary career as well as his friendships with several young ladies as he looks for a wife. It is thoughtful about the choices for women at this time and deals with the consequences when Lady Laura makes the wrong choice of husband. Another character, Laura’s best friend Violet Effingham, is wealthy in her own right and wants to remain single and run her own household but finds she is not allowed to. Finally, there is Marie Max Goesler, an intriguing character. She is a wealthy widow who is known for her select parties. She is an admitted social climber, but she takes a great interest in Phineas’s career.

Phineas himself is a likable fellow who sometimes seems a little suggestible but by and large works hard and leads an ethical life. I enjoyed this book very much. The only thing I found disappointing was that of the four women he considers marrying, he ends up with the least interesting and most insipid.

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Day 1139: Framley Parsonage

Cover for Framley ParsonageIn the fourth of the Barsetshire Chronicles, we meet some old friends and make some new ones. Of particular interest to Framley Parsonage are two occupants of the parsonage, Mark Robarts and his sister, Lucy.

Mark Robarts is a young clergyman who has been remarkably lucky and successful because of his friendship with Lord Lufton and his patronage by Lord Lufton’s mother, Lady Lufton. Instead of slaving away at a curacy like most clergymen of his age, he has the living at Framley, given to him by Lady Lufton, at a very good income. His lovely wife, Fanny, was chosen for him by Lady Lufton and makes him very happy.

Perhaps Mark has been too lucky, for he begins to think that his good fortune is due to his own efforts. He is a good man, but he is still only twenty-six. In any case, he ignores Lady Lufton’s prejudices against a set of people headed by Lord Omnium, her particular enemy, and accepts an invitation to Gatherum Hall. He believes he can better himself through acquaintance with the politicians he will meet there.

At this gathering, he is befriended by Mr. Sowerby, an insolvent member of parliament. Mr. Sowerby talks him into signing a bill for him for 500 pounds, promising repayment (reminding us of a similar subplot in Middlemarch). But Sowerby has no means by which to pay. Later, Sowerby talks Mark into compounding his error by signing another bill for £400. Mark is now in debt for his entire yearly salary.

Lucy Robarts, Mark’s sister, comes to live at Framley Parsonage after her father’s death. Lady Lufton has been trying to match her son with the beautiful Griselda Grantly, daughter of archdeacon Grantly, but Lord Lufton falls in love with Lucy. Lady Lufton is not at all in favor of the match.

Among these new acquaintances are old friends and acquaintances. The wealthy Miss Dunstable, whom Frank Gresham’s family wanted him to court in Doctor Thorne, is now being sought in matrimony by Mr. Sowerby. Doctor Thorne and his niece, Mary, also make an appearance. And the Grantly’s were, of course, prominent characters in the first two novels. We also see a lot more of Bishop and Mrs. Proudie than we have since The Warden.

I am really enjoying this series, and I like how Trollope ties in all of the characters so that some who are important to one book appear as minor characters in another. Trollope examines in this novel the standards of behavior expected of a gentleman, particularly a clergyman. Mark Robarts has broken with those standards, and as slight as his offence may seem, is forced to pay the consequences.

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Day 997: Doctor Thorne

Cover for Doctor ThorneBest 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.

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Day 777: Barchester Towers

Cover for Barchester TowersBest Book of the Week!
As Trollope’s first book in his Chronicles of Barchester was about gentle Mr. Harding’s position as warden, it seems hardly possible that a good portion of Barchester Towers, the next in the series, would be about exactly the same subject. Yet, that is the case, and Trollope finds it to provide more food for satire and social commentary.

Several years have passed since the events of The Warden. The kindly old bishop, Dr. Grantly, is dying, attended by his son, the archdeacon, and his old friend Mr. Harding. Although the younger Dr. Grantly is certainly devoted to his father, he has hopes that he will be appointed to his father’s office, as he has been doing the work for years. However, just before his father dies, a new government comes in, and Dr. Proudie is appointed bishop.

The quarrels in this novel pit low church against high church, which is about all I understand about the religious issues. But all of the clergy in Barchester are high church, and Bishop Proudie is low. Bishop Proudie himself, a meek man, is not so much a problem, but he arrives with a wife who is determined to sit in on every meeting and meddle in diocese business, much to the shock of everyone else. In this she is assisted by Mr. Slope, the bishop’s own chaplain, selected by Mrs. Proudie. And an insinuating, unlikable Uriah Heepish character he is.

One of the first issues to come up for the bishop is the wardenship of the hospital for old men, which has sat vacant since Mr. Harding resigned. Bishop Proudie knows he must offer the position at its lowered salary to Mr. Harding, and Mr. Harding would enjoy returning to the house that was his home for so many years and taking up his old duties. But Mrs. Proudie wants anyone except the entrenched Barchester clergy, so she selects Mr. Quiverful, an impoverished curate with 14 children.

Under instruction from the bishop to offer the position to Mr. Harding, Mr. Slope does so by adding conditions to the position that he knows Mr. Harding will not accept and that Mr. Slope himself, or even the bishop, has no authority to request. Although Mr. Harding does not turn down the job outright, Mrs. Proudie then promises it to Mrs. Quiverful.

But Mr. Slope decides that he can run the bishopric himself if he can cut out Mrs. Proudie, so he and the bishop soon have a silent agreement to throw off the feminine yoke. They do so by offering the wardenship to Mr. Harding again. Mr. Slope has also found out that the beautiful widow, Mrs. Bold, is wealthy. He decides to marry her and feels that he won’t help his chances unless he assists her father, Mr. Harding, back into his position.

In the meantime, Mr. Slope is infatuated with Madeline Neroni, the crippled but beautiful married daughter of Dr. Stanhope. She herself is frankly toying with him and several other men, but she turns out to have some sympathy with Eleanor Bold. However, Madeline’s sister Charlotte Stanhope has decided that her impecunious brother Bertie must marry Eleanor for her money.

Barchester Towers affords another entertaining look at the political and social maneuvers underpinning this mostly religious community. It offers lifelike, engaging characters, plenty of humor, and an empathetic and perceptive view of Trollope’s own time. I enjoyed The Warden particularly because I sympathized with the upright Mr. Harding, but Barchester Towers offers more for our consideration and is an altogether more significant work.

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Day 725: The Warden

Cover for The WardenThe Warden was the first of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels, inspired by a setting and a series of Church of England preferment scandals. A chronicler of 19th century life, Trollope was interested in the intersections between practical and emotional considerations. He was a prolific writer known for complex, realistic novels.

The main character of The Warden is Mr. Harding, a kindly, well-meaning canon who is warden of a charitable hospital, sort of a retirement home for poor old men. For his care of the twelve old men’s spiritual well-being, he receives a salary of £800 a year. It is a position that involves little work and also includes a comfortable house, where he lives with his younger daughter Eleanor.

John Bold has been a friend of this house since a young boy, and Eleanor’s friends are expecting to hear of their engagement. John is a wealthy young man who doesn’t have to work for a living, so he has turned his attentions to reform. After a preferment scandal in another town, he decides to look into the will of the man who endowed the hospital. He finds that the pay of the warden has increased 25 times since the endowment 400 years ago, while the residents’ stipends have not increased, although of course the cost of their food and lodging and medical care has increased and is taken care of by the trust. In fact, the only increase the residents have had has come out of Mr. Harding’s own pocket.

Despite his sister’s advice, instead of taking this issue up with the church or the trust, John Bold brings a lawsuit on behalf of the hospital residents and takes the issue to The Jupiter, a powerful newspaper. His lawyer gets most of the elderly residents to sign a petition, rashly promising them £100 a year each. (Note how well the math works here. Even if they took all of Mr. Hardings’ salary, they wouldn’t have enough money to pay each of the residents £100 a year.)

It is Mr. Hardings’ reaction that forms the core of the novel, for he is not interested, like the lawyers and his son-in-law the archbishop, in whether the case will be won or lost but in whether the plaintiff’s point is morally correct. Although he has never given his position any thought, in fact is simply an employee of the trust, he is concerned that the intent of the original will might have been that the recipients of the charity should receive a larger share of it.

Except for his mild-mannered friend, the bishop, he cannot find anyone who will even enter into a discussion with him on this topic. And the bishop is completely dominated by his son, the archbishop Dr. Grantly. Dr. Grantly pushes aside Mr. Hardings’ concerns, which he considers weak, disregarding his wife’s ascerbic comments on how poorly he is handling her father. Soon, a newspaper article has appeared that makes poor Mr. Harding look greedy and grasping.

Not only is Trollope interested in exploring the differences between the reactions of Mr. Hardy, high-minded and feeling, and the lawyers and Dr. Grantly, all business and practicality, but he is also interested in the ramifications of reform. Although he shows there is corruption, this corruption is more of the institutional kind that has evolved over time. No one is purposefully trying to cheat anyone. On the other hand, he wants to point out that the alternatives to these entrenched systems might actually be worse.

We can predict that Mr. Harding ends up financially worse off than he started but that the hospital inhabitants do, too. Trollope’s first Barsetshire novel is quiet and slyly ironic. Trollope is not as often read these days, but he is certainly worth reading.

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