Doctor Thorne, a cousin of the grand Thornes of Ullathorne who appear in Barchester Towers, is a simple country daughter who lives with his niece Mary. Mary's parentage is mysterious, though as is usually with Trollope the mystery lasts no more than a few pages; I have never met any novelist more determined to give the game away. Mary's father was Doctor Thorne's rakish brother Henry who seduced and impregnated Roger Scatcherd's sister; as a result Roger, a stonemason and great drinker, bashed Henry to death (getting six months for manslaughter; who said modern courts were lenient!) and the mother got married and moved to America leaving the baby girl in the care of her uncle the doctor.
Roger Scatcherd's wife had also been wet nurse to Francis Gresham, son and heir of Greshambury.
Twenty one years on, Frank comes of age. He has more or less grown up with Mary around and he has fallen in love with her. But his family estate is burdened with debts. Already Roger Scatcherd, who has made a fortune post-prison as a railway magnate, has bought a significant portion of the estate and Frank's dad owes Roger another eighty thousand pounds or so. So Frank's family want him to marry money and stop making love to Mary. They (and everyone else except the Doctor who soon confides in Roger, now Sir Roger (Bart)) are unaware that Mary is potentially the heiress to Sir Roger's three hundred thousand pounds.
Frank is sent away to de Courcey Castle (despite protesting that he needs to go back to Cambridge where he is close to finishing his degree) to meet Miss Dunstable, heiress to the Oil of Lebanon fortune, who turns out to be a terrible funny, sensible girl who really likes Frank as a friend but, after he proposes to her, advises him to marry Mary. This proposal comes in the centre of the book and is, in one sense, the turning point. This is the growing up of Frank, the point from which his boyish passion is replaced by a manly love. From now on, although Frank will be tempted, we are sure that (with the repeated assistance of Miss Dunstable the good fairy) he will stay true to Mary.
The main tribulations seem to be around sending Frank away for varying periods of time and preventing communication between him and Mary (either deliberately or through the vagaries of the Post Office). At the start these 'cooling off periods' are necessary so that various other plot elements have time to come to fruition. Towards the end, when there is yet another fortnight delay, the aim seems merely to be to pad out the novel: was Trollope paid per word?
In the end, what we all knew was going to happen from the start happens and they all live happily ever after (except Augusta who is betrayed a second time in a rather nasty chapter that could easily be removed entirely from the narrative).
A fairy story with a bad witch, a good fairy, a young romantic hero, an ineffective Baron Hardup, and a sweet innocent Cinderella who is transformed from rags to riches. The only truly brilliant character is Miss Dunstable, a lady past her prime marrying age who nevertheless enjoys the attention of strings of would-be husbands on account of the Oil of Lebanon but who stays sane whilst being pursued by these unspeakables by having a brilliant sense of humour. Otherwise the characters are either too good to be true (Dr Thorne, Mary, Frank, Beatrice, the Squire, even Sir Roger, his wife etc) or pure villains such as Sir Louis and the avaricious and extravagant Lady Arabella.
Another Trollope. March 2016, 468 pages
I have also read and reviewed Trollope's Palliser novels:
- Can You Forgive Her? in which Alice Vavasor oscillates backwards and forwards between goody two shoes John Grey and her wicked cousin George Vavasor. This book is blessed with a humorous counterpoint as rich and merry widow Mrs Greenow oscillates between rich farmer Mr Cheesacre who repeatedly tells everyone how well to do he is and penniless chancer and fraud 'Captain' Bellfield; the funniest of the palliser books
- Phineas Finn, Irish charmer Phineas enters parliament and seeks marriage with Violet Effingham (he fights a duel over her) or Laura Standish (who rejects him for dour Scot Mr Kennedy whom Phineas subsequently saves from muggers) whilst being pursued by a poor Irish girl from home. Phineas suffers political tribulations but the best part of the book is the sadness over Laura's marriage.
- The Eustace Diamonds, The wonderful minx Lizzie Eustace, who has married a dying man for diamonds and is determined to keep them despite legal attempts to win them back for the family, is Trollope's best character. She lies, she manipulates and she breaks the law to retian what she has convinced herself is rightfully hers.
- Phineas Redux Phineas returns, is again embroiled in woman trouble, and stands trial for murder. This should be the most exciting of the Trollope books were it not for the fact that Trollope writres his own spoilers.
- The Prime Minister Plantagent Palliser, Duke of Omnium, becomes Prime Minister of a coalition but he is too concerned for his honour to be a successful leader and he struggles on the rack of his own conscience
- The Duke's Children in which Plantagenet's children do their best to make unsuitable matches. The Duke finds it hard to apply his own liberal principles to his children.