History records that Elizabeth Gaskell said:
“I wish Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever. I don’t see any reason why it should come to an end.”
I’m inclined to agree with her, and I think that is because it has so very many of the things I look for in a Trollope novel done rather well:
- Church and Parliament
- Vicarages and Country Houses
- New and Returning Characters
- Town and Country
- Financial and Romantic Intrigues
At the centre of this book is a young man named Mark Robarts.
Mark was the son of a doctor from Devon, who shared a tutor with the young Lord Lufton. The dowager Lady Lufton was delighted with the friendship, and she guided Mark towards an excellent education, a career in the church, a comfortable living at the parish of Framley in the diocese of Barchester, and a happy marriage with her daughter’s lovely friend, Fanny.
He was genial and likeable young man, but his passage though life had been so smooth that he hadn’t learned many important lessons, and that led him into trouble.
Mark was drawn into the local political set, and he was persuaded to sign a bill for a significant amount of money. He knew that the man who made the request had a bad reputation, that Lord Lufton had already had unhappy dealings with him; but he didn’t know how to say no and it didn’t occur to him that any man wouldn’t do all that he could to meet his obligations and that he would be called upon to pay money that he didn’t have.
He was, and so he signed another bill.
He knew that he had done the wrong thing, and he couldn’t bring himself to tell his wife.
It was maddening, it was understandable, it was utterly believable ….
That’s the framework of the story – what you would read about if you looked up the book; but, as is almost always with Trollope’s big books, there was much more that he hung on that framework to make it a delight.
Consider a Christmas tree. A fir tree in its natural state is lovely, but when it has been adorned with a lovely mixture of old familiar and shiny new ornaments it is something else entirely …
When Mark’s father died he was heartbroken, but it occurred to him that a legacy might solve his financial problems. It didn’t, because Mark’s father believed he was well set up in life and that his siblings needed what little capital he had rather more; but it did bring him a lovely adornment to his home in the shape of his sister Lucy. She became one of my favourite Trollope heroines, with her lovely mix of intelligence, practicality and femininity.
Lord Lufton was drawn to Lucy, and she to him, but she knew that his mother disapproved and so she tried to pull away.
Though I often disagreed with her, I thought that the dowager Lady Lufton was a wonderful character. She was wonderfully active in her efforts to put the world to rights. She sent in a poor and pious perpetual curate, Mr Crawley, to try to draw Mark away from his unsuitable companions. He was not a character I could love, but his story was so well thought out that I could understand. She also promoted a match between her son and the lovely Griselda Grantly, daughter of the Archdeacon of Barchester.
Lady Lufton was formidable, but she had the best of intentions, she only wanted her son to be happy, and she could also be humble when realised that she had erred.
I was delighted to meet the Miss Dunstable, the wonderfully independently minded heiress again. She was close to the young Greshams and Doctor Thorne still, but she had been drawn into the same local political set as Mark. She was interested in politics, and they were interested in her as a matrimonial prize who would bring them a very fine fortune.
I found the political set to be the weak link in this book, its members the least engaging of its characters; and I suspect that they were there to allow stories to play out as Trollope wanted them to, and not because he loved them for their own sakes.
I so hoped that Miss Dunstable’s good sense would prevail.
She was wonderfully entertained by Mrs Proudie and Mrs Grantly, as each lady wished to outdo each other socially, and as each lady had daughters to be married off. I was too, but I was disappointed that the Griselda Grantly was shallow and self-absorbed, and I really could not understand how the daughter of the archdeacon and his wife had turned out that way.
She didn’t appreciate her grandfather, Mr Harding, but I was delighted that he was given a moment in the spotlight, and even more delighted that he was given the opportunity to talk about Barchester Cathedral and Hiram’s Hospital.
There were so many wonderful moments, so many perfect details, that I really could feel that I was walking through a world that had a history that had begun long before I arrived and that would go on long after I left. Anthony Trollope made that world spin, he managed all of the characters and stories in that world wonderfully well.
He seemed a little less chatty than usual; maybe because there was so much going on.
I was caught up in the human drama from the first page to the last; and thought I had a fair idea where the story was going I wasn’t really sure until the very end.
The resolution was magnificent, I was sorry to have to leave this world, but I plan to travel back there very soon.