~ 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.
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.
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.”