Discovering a new favorite author is one of the joys of the reading life. It’s like receiving a box of chocolates which should last several weeks, but tastes so good that it is rapidly disappearing.
Trollope is my chocolate.
The locus of the first two books in Trollope’s Barset Chronicles, The Warden and Barchester Towers, is a cathedral city. The conflicts of diocesan appointments, the juxtaposition of humble clerics with self-serving ecclesiastical climbers, and the quest of three very different men to marry a wealthy widow carry the narrative along.
The setting in Dr. Thorne is out in the countryside where landed gentry struggle to maintain the purity of their class connections and suffer from want of money. To this strata of society every potential marriage is evaluated by the ability of the person marrying into the family to provide either increased prestige or an infusion of cash. One phrase surfaces repeatedly: “Frank must marry money.” Unfortunately, the woman Frank loves does not have money; therein resides the conflict to be resolved.
Opposite the gentry are the merchants, manufacturers and professionals who insist they are equal in dignity to the Earls, Counts and Baronets. Wealth is a passport into the aristocracy, but a man like Dr. Thorne holds stubbornly to his right to enter into the society of anyone regardless of his own birth or wealth. Class consciousness is everywhere in this novel.
Trollope writes with humor, grace and insight. His portrayal of the ebb and flow of an alcoholic written in 1858 rings true today. Little gems like this pop up:
The expectation of some people that doctors should work only from altruistic motivation made me laugh aloud:
The Victorian Web is a good resource to learn more about Trollope. Contributors include P.D. James, Antonia Fraser, Paul Johnson, Maeve Binchy, and Louis Auchincloss. P.D. James has written an introduction to Dr. Thorne here.
Hawthorne’s quote on Trollope mirrors my thoughts:
my taste; solid, substantial, written on strength of beef and through
inspiration of ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great
lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its
inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that
they were made a show of.”