This story revolves around three women (and Trollope is far better than Dickens at portraying real women).
- Alice Vavasor can't decide whether to marry goody two shoes John Grey (there is a point at which Alice's father says that he thinks it is John's goodness that irks Kate and I nodded in agreement at this point) or scarred villain (straight out of melodrama) George Vavasor, her wicked cousin. George is busy ruining himself in his ambition to become an MP for a Metropolitan seat; the costs of the election are far beyond his means and he becomes increasingly wicked in his efforts to obtain money.
- Lady Glencora wanted to marry handsome but impecunious devil Burgo Fitzgerald with whom she was head over heels in love but her important relations pressurised her into marrying dry stick MP Plantagenet Palliser, heir to the Duke of Omnium and a likely candidate to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. But Burgo keeps tempting her to run away with him and she is very unhappy in her marriage and contemplating ruining her reputation by becoming Burgo's mistress.
- Mrs Greenow, Alice's Aunt and a wealthy widow, flirts with Mr Cheesacre, a rich farmer who can never avoid telling everyone how well-to-do he is and penniless and mendacious soldier 'Captain' Bellfield. This story ends differently from the other two and gives the novel a welcome counterpoint of comedy; a lot of humour is wrung from the rivalry of Cheesacre and Bellfield, particularly from the pretensions of the former.
So, the eternal dilemma for all women: bad boy to have fun with or nice boy for security?
This is a very weighty book. 770 pages takes commitment! But Trollope can write some brilliant nuanced characters (apart from Alice who is a pious pain in the posterior). Lady Glencora is a delight as a spoilt little heiress who chatters away endlessly, has tantrums, refuses to like people she dislikes (and tells them to their faces) and just longs to be naughty. I adored the trip with Plantagenet in which she opposes everyhting he proposes, just for the devilment of being awkward. George is a delight as he plans more and more moustache-twirling evil (whilst never straying too far from the paths of credibility) in his desperation to raise money: I particularly love his self-hatred as he is driven into the depths. Mr Palliser is a delight as he gradually becomes more and more human; at the start he has impeccable courtesy, he is dedicated to his politics and he is ridiculously honourable but before the end his sacrifices and sufferings have made him considerate (as opposed to just courteous) and thoughtful. Alice's father, widowed when Alice was a baby, resents having to work in the Court of Chancery signing papers for three days a week during term time for £800 per year (£500 pa is enough for a comfortable private income) but will not relinquish the job for a pension of £400 pa; he dines at his club every night so that Alice seems to have brought herself up. Lady Macleod keeps talking about the 'advantage' of knowing and being even distantly related to the nobility. And Mr Cheesacre, as I have written above, is a most marvellous comic creation.
There are moments of wonderfully dry humour. After Glencora's first trip to a casino, when Mr Palliser was very angry at Alice for allowing her to go, he agrees to accompany her a second time, at which Alice looks at him and says to Lady G: "Perhaps I shall be forgiven when someone sees how difficult it is to manage you."
It is well-plotted too. The first part of the novel is a little slow but once we have got the measure of the characters their intermingled stories keeps things going. There are 40 chapters in each of two volumes and almost every chapter has a neat dramatic arc. And the Greenow/ Cheesacre/ Bellfield comedy leavens the dough considerably. There were certainly moments when I didn't know what was going to happen next and could scarcely wait to find out.
Trollope wrote 47 novels (and other work)!!!! I have read The Warden, first in the Barsetshire tales of clerical sheenanigans, and now this. I enjoyed The Warden and now I very much want to read the rest of the Palliser series. Great fun. May 2015; 770 pages
I have now read and enjoyed the next books in the series:
- Phineas Finn: a poor Irishman becomes an MP and tries to marry money to support this career
- The Eustace Diamonds: Scheming, lying minx Lizzie Eustace tries to hang on to her diamonds and trap a second husband; a great female character
- Phineas Redux: Phineas is tried for murder; Trollope writes his own spoiler and forfeits lots of possible tension.
- The Prime Minister: Mr Palliser, now the Duke of Omnium, becomes Prime Minister and yet another scoundrel marries yet another gentlewoman; perhaps this book has the greatest rotter but again Trollope forfeits a great deal of tension by resolving the main plot too early.
- The Duke's Children: Two of Mr Palliser's children threaten to make unsuitable marriages; will the Duke allow them?
But of all the books, Can You Forgive Her? has the best comic scenes.