Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne (1858)
|Illustration by Millais, found here.|
In the third of his Barsetshire Chronicles, Trollope departs from the clerical characters and themes that occupied him in the first two volumes, and takes a look at another segment of Barset society. The novel introduces us to a once-wealthy squire who is down on his luck, the worthy doctor who is his friend, and the county families who form their network of relationships. The main plot has to do with the squire’s son and the doctor’s illegitimate niece, whose love for each other causes outrage and distress to their relatives, and not a little anguish to themselves. Meanwhile, the doctor has to keep a painful secret regarding an inheritance that might — or might not — change everything.
Questions of rank, birth and “blood” are explored through ironic contrasts. There are characters of ignoble birth but the highest moral purity, blue-blooded aristocrats with not a speck of human consideration, and every variation in between. Money, sadly, can erase faults on either end of the spectrum in the eyes of most members of this society, a fact that Trollope is not shy to point out.
There never was a fox yet without a tail who would not be delighted to find himself suddenly possessed of that appendage. Never; let the untailed fox have been ever so sincere in his advice to his friends! We are all of us, the good and the bad, looking for tails — for one tail, or for more than one; we do so too often by ways that are mean enough: but perhaps there is no tail-seeker more sneakingly mean than he who looks out to adorn his bare back by a tail by marriage.
My very favorite character was Miss Dunstable, the no-longer-young heiress of a commercial fortune, who keeps a humorous yet unjaded attitude as she deftly eludes the suitors who throw themselves at her. It’s refreshing that her healthy bank balance doesn’t cause her to lose sight of the true worth of a human being. Along with a few other characters, she reminds us that it is possible not to be a “tail-seeker.”
Overall, I found the satire in Doctor Thorne to be gentler than in Barchester Towers, and the characters more congenial. This was both positive and negative; though it made Greshamsbury a more pleasant place to be than Barchester, it was at times somewhat dull, lacking the exuberant awfulness of a Mr. Slope or a Signora Neroni. There were also times when I felt Trollope was going over the same ground repeatedly, and wished he would just move on to the crisis and happy resolution that I knew would be coming eventually. Was he trying to fill pages in a serial publication? The novel’s construction could have used some tightening up, but despite this I still read with interest and amusement throughout its 500+ pages.
I enjoyed my latest sojourn in Barsetshire very much, and can’t wait to read Framley Parsonage, in which I understand Miss Dunstable makes a welcome reappearance. Thank you to Karen of Books and Chocolate for the incentive to read this in April for her Trollope Bicentennial Celebration! Be sure to check out this event if you’re interested in the author and his works. Books as Food is also doing a #6barsets readalong, one book every two months; I’m a bit ahead of schedule with this one but I look forward to the discussion next month.
Back to the Classics challenge: Classic with a Name in the Title