Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Victorian #1

I read this book for the A Victorian Celebration 2015 hosted over at A Literary Odyssey in June and July, 2015.

Dr. Thorne – Anthony Trollope

Let us now pass on to property, the greatest cause of human troubles. For if you compare all the other things by which we are troubled, deaths, sicknesses, fears, desires, endurance of pains and labors, with those evils which our money causes, this last part will far outweigh the others.

Says the stoic Seneca, and in this novel Trollope agrees property is a bugbear but adds to the list: politics, class conflict, family discord, alcoholism, illegitimacy, profligacy, hypocrisy, and stupidity.

The plot of Dr. Thorne isn’t as important as the fresh and distinct characters and variety of incidents, but here’s a brief overview, sans spoilers, as always. Young Frank Gresham faces the odious prospect of having to work for a living because his father, the squire, has gone in to debt due to campaign expenses in elections he lost anyway. Frank’s mother and the rest of her objectionable aristocratic family demand that Frank marry money in order to get his father out financial dutch.

But our hero Frank loves our heroine, the portionless Mary Thorne. She lives with her uncle, Dr. Thomas Thorne, the only one besides the squire who knows her unfortunate beginnings. Mary’s mother Mary was ruined and dumped by Dr. Thorne's bad-hat brother, Henry. Mary’s brother Roger, a mason, kills Henry and does time for it. Mom Mary is saved by an old sweetheart, who is willing to marry her but not to bring up another man’s kid. They emigrate to America and Dr. Thorne agrees to raise Baby Mary.

Br’er Roger is released from the joint and though he is raging alky, he makes a ton of money as a government contractor in large construction projects. He bids his lawyers to write the usual funky Victorian will. It stipulates that at his death he will leave his huge fortune and chattels to his dissolute son Louis or to Mary, if Louis dies. Mary of course knows nothing about these terms of the will.

Mary loves Frank, too, but the pressure on Frank is hard to bear. His mother says:

“If you wish to see me ever happy again, if you do not wish to see me sink broken-hearted to my grave, you must give up this mad idea, Frank,"—and now all Lady Arabella's energy came out. "Frank there is but one course left open to you. You MUST marry money." And then Lady Arabella stood up before her son as Lady Macbeth might have stood, had Lady Macbeth lived to have a son of Frank's years.

I was afraid that this romance Love Conquers All, Even Class Differences  a.k.a. Dr. Thorne would be a let-down after reading the first two Barsetshire novels, The Warden and Barchester Towers. But Dr. Thorne was consistently interesting, with many delightful scenes that balance Trollope’s very slow start (persevere, is all I can say); too funny names (the lawyers Messrs. Slow and Bideawhile); obvious padding (Make ‘em wait, as Wilkie Collins would say); and mock epic or Biblical language such as

Come, my friend, and discourse with me. Let us know what are thy ideas of the inestimable benefits which science has conferred on us in these, our latter days. How dost thou, among others, appreciate railways and the power of steam, telegraphs, telegrams, and our new expresses?

Trollope is quite careful to describe how much time has passed, however, which makes up for his lack of interest in describing flora or weather or season.  The passing of time leaves its stamp on his characters. Trollope’s narrator is not omniscient, but he seems to know everything important about the characters. He imparts his knowledge with irony and geniality, giving the sense that he sympathizes with his characters (Poor Mary! Poor Frank!) and so should we readers.

So, any reader who like the first two novels of the series should read Dr. Thorne. It was, says critic Daniel Rutenberg, “the best-selling Trollope novel during the author's lifetime.”

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