In the 21st century, Anthony Trollope is a trendy Victorian writer. Whether or not he is taught in school I cannot say, but he has a vast fan base. Some critics consider him a hack, but he has also provided them with endless new subject matter.
I recently reread Framley Parsonage, the charming fourth novel in Trollope’s six-book Barsetshire series. It was Trollope’s breakthrough novel because of its serialization in Cornhill magazine. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote admiringly to the publisher of the Cornhill, “I wish Mr. Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage forever. I don’t see why it should ever come to an end and everyone I know is always dreading the last number.”
Framley Parsonage is a sweet and mesmerizing read. Trollope entertainingly explores the politics of the clergy and the foibles of the aristocracy. This compelling book revolves around debt, marriage, and pride and prejudice. Though it rambles in the beginning, Trollope soon gets a grip.
The “hero” is Mark Robarts, an ambitious clergyman who, at 25, has never slaved as a curate: he has a splendid job, the prestigious Framley living, given him by his friend’s mother Lady Lufton, who has known him since boyhood. Lady Lufton loves to maneuver and manipulate: she even picked out Mark’s wife, Fanny. (Fortunately, Mark and Fanny love each other.) But we’re not surprised when Mark rebels against Lady Lufton and asserts himself, visiting a “fast set” of well-known men she disapproves of: Mr. Sowerby at Chaldicotes, a politician who is heavily in debt, and the Duke of Omnium, who is something of a roué. But Mark ends up foolishly signing one of Mr. Sowerby’s “bills”—saying he will be responsible if Mr. Sowerby can’t pay the debt—and, naturally, Mr. Sowerby cannot.
The marriage plot relieves the serious money problems faced by Mark and others. Will Mark’s sister Lucy, the smartest in the Robarts family (so much smarter than Mark) marry Lord Lufton, even though Lady Lufton disapproves? And whom will Miss Dunstable marry?
I adore Trollope’s occasional Ciceronian rhetoric. Trollope was a lifetime fan of Cicero and even wrote a book about him. In the following passage, you will notice a triad (a grouping of three) in the first sentence, and the second is marked by anaphora, a repetition of the same word at the beginning of successive clauses. N.B. This passage describes Lady Lufton’s reaction to the knowledge that her son, Lord Lufton, is coming home for the winter.
It was proper, and becoming, and comfortable in the extreme. An English gentleman ought to hunt in the county where he himself owns the fields over which he rides; he ought to receive the respect and honor due to him from his own tenants; he ought to sleep under a roof of his own, and he ought also—so Lady Lufton thought—to fall in love with an embryo bride of his own mother’s choosing.
When I first began reading Trollope, very few of Trollope’s books were available. How the world is changed! You can get free copies from Project Gutenberg now. And don’t worry about reading the Barsetshire series in order: Framley Parsonage can be read as a standalone.