Framley Parsonage

~ Have you ever made a foolish financial transaction and hid it from your spouse?
~ Have you loved your son, but disliked his choice of wife?
~ If you loved a man, but knew that his mother didn’t like you, what would you say to a marriage proposal?
~ Do you sometimes yearn to be an accepted member of the inner circle?
~ Should a pastor have nice things?
~ Has a formerly close friendship changed because your friend was promoted and you couldn’t deal with the differences in your situations?

Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage, the fourth book in the Barsetshire novels, leaves the theme of class divisions and explores the complete orbit of ambition.

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina takes the reader through every stage of an affair, from the stolen glances across the room to the clandestine meetings to the pleasure of consumation.   Tolstoy accurately narrates the zest and tingly shivers that accompany illicit love. Then he carries the story to its logical conclusion; the eventual boredom of the relationship, estrangement from family, the problem of the children, the loss of respectability, the loneliness of self-imposed banishment and despair that ends in tragedy.  

I thought of Anna K as I read Framley Parsonage.  Mark Robarts is a nice guy: a young, well-established vicar with a growing family and a generous patroness.  He is invited to a party of the upper crust, unscrupulous high rollers, and also asked to preach a sermon at their church.  The invitation to preach legitimizes whatever questions may be raised by the company he would keep.  Robarts is naive; he is manipulated; he is outrageously foolish. 

It is no doubt very wrong to long after a naughty thing. But nevertheless we all do so.  One may say that hankering after naughty things is the very essence of the evil  into which we have been precipitated by Adam’s fall. When we confess that we are all sinners, we confess that we all long after naughty things. … Clergymen are subject to the same passions as other men; and, as far as I can see, give way to them, in one line or another, almost as frequently. Every clergyman should, by canonical rule, feel a personal disinclination to a bishopric; but yet we do not believe that such personal disinclination is generally very strong. (p.66)

Mark thought he could touch pitch and not be defiled.  After he is entrapped, he muddles around, scrambling to cover and hide his situation. When his courage builds to the point of facing his wife, confessing his foibles, and enduring public embarrassment, we admire and enjoy this country vicar and adore his wife Fanny.

Is not that sharing of the mind’s burdens one of the chief purposes for which man wants a wife? For there is no folly so great as keeping one’s sorrows hidden. And this wife cheerfully, gladly, thankfully took her share. To endure with her lord all her lord’s troubles was easy to her; it was the work to which she had pledged herself.  But to have thought that her lord had troubles not communicated to her; – that would have been to her the one thing not to be bourne.  (p.400)

Trollope always writes with humor, clarity, and a supreme understanding of human nature. His tone is warm, not preachy; he is funny! Yet in his humor, he is serious.  He likes women who are “ready-witted, prompt in action, and gifted with a certain fire” not “missish, and spoony, and sentimental”.  He unveils many forms of pride: the refusal of poor Mr. Crawley to accept needed help; the idolatrous pride of mothers in their children; the haughty statue of a girl whose only desire is to sit and be admired; the difficulty of a stubborn aristocratic mother to admit her judgment was wrong. 

The entertaining subplots add interest without distracting from the main storyline.  The wealthy heiress, Miss Dunstable, is adroit at batting off marriage proposals with her “I am much obliged to you”s until she receives a most unusual love letter from a hero of a previous book.  Young Lucy Robarts is a genius in dealing with a potential mother-in-law problem.  If you’d like to know her solution, email me and I’ll tell you without spoiling it for the others.  TBOI (tasty bit of information): Mr. Spurgeon makes a brief entrance.

It is only mid-February, but I suspect that this book will be my favorite 2007 read.  Elizabeth Gaskell, a contemporary of Trollope, wrote, “I wish Mr. Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever.”

8 thoughts on “Framley Parsonage

  1. Kcaarin, the first book is The Warden, about a humble, cello-playing warden and his delightful daughter Eleanor. The second, Barchester Towers, continues Eleanor’s story and goes into ecclesiastical politics. Three men, all very different, pursue Eleanor. Next, Dr. Thorne, in which Trollope moves out into the shire away from the city and the church. Much of the conflict in Dr. Thorne is class-related. The gentry are a little schizo about the middle class. If a lower-class raised to middle-classer has cash, and lots of it, they are acceptable partners for marriage. If they are simple middle class, educated, working folk, but without money they aren’t good enough. I’m waiting for The Small House at Allington to arrive in the mail- # 5 in the series.

  2. I love Trollope’s books, and the Barchester series is a favorite!  I hope you won’t be disappointed with The Small House at Allington.  I read it aloud to my family on a roadtrip, but the trip wasn’t long enough to finish it, which was just as well.  The ending wasn’t Trollope’s usual tidy ending.  (My husband was bitterly disappointed and grumbled for a week.)
    But I love Trollope’s cheerfulness!

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