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.”

Dr. Thorne

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:

Even in those bitterest days God tempered the wind to the shorn lamb.

The expectation of some people that doctors should work only from altruistic motivation made me laugh aloud:

It would have behoved him, as a physician, had he had the feelings of a physician under his hat, to have regarded his own pursuits in a purely philosophical spirit, and to have taken any gain which might have accrued as a accidental adjunct to his station in life.

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:

“Have you ever read the novels of Anthony Trollope? They precisely suit
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.”

Barchester Chronicles


The Barchester Chronicles is a 1982 BBC mini-series adaption of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers.  Donald Pleasance does a fine job portraying Septimus Harding, who must be a good guy since he plays the cello.  A young Alan Rickman enters the story in the third episode playing the filmy chaplain, Obadiah Slope.

The pace of the series is agonizingly slow at times, and the style of videography is reflective of both 1982 and the BBC: slow pans, very little background music, single camera shots.  If you are itching for action, watch National Treasure; get the itch out of your system before you sit and savor this slow, sweet film.  With that caveat given, I can rave about this wonderful DVD.  

At the heart of the story is “our dear Mr. Harding,” a man who is kind-hearted, contented, and perceptive, a man who is meek in the best sense of the word.  His over-ambitious son-in-law, the archdeacon, is perpetually peeved at  Mr. Harding’s placid response to personal criticism.  “My father-in-law can be a very difficult person,” he complains to his father, the bishop.  To which the bishop replies, “He has persistent bouts of ….Christianity.”

Lawyers and lawsuits occupy the first two episodes.  Twelve bedesmen are persuaded to make a class-action suit against our cello-playing hero, who is the warden of Hiram’s Hospital, an almshouse for aging workers.  One man is loyal to Mr. Harding and tries to talk them out of the suit.

“We wants what’s ours by law!”

“Law!  Never a poor man yet was better for law or a lawyer.  Will Mr. Finney [lawyer] be as good to you as the warden has been? Will he feed you when you’re sick, comfort you when you’re wretched?  Wait ’til you’re all on your deathbeds.  Then cry out for lawyers. See what good it’ll do you.  Law!  Tchah!”

~    ~   ~   ~   ~   ~ 

The relationship between our dear Mr. Harding and his younger daughter is a lovely portrait of mutual devotion and respect.  The man who loves this daughter has been cast in an adverserial role to the warden. 

“Mr. Bold has asked me to marry him.”

“I trust you said yes?”

“You don’t mind?”

“John Bold is honest, good, kind-hearted and right-thinking in the main.  A good wife will smooth the little imperfections.”

~   ~    ~   ~   ~   ~   ~  ~ 

Our dear Mr. Harding is passionate about music.  One of his peculiarities is that when he is trapped in an emotionally-charged situation he will comfort himself by playing the cello in the air, making bowstrokes with his right hand and vibrato on the strings with his left.   This was played to perfection by Pleasance.  Later,  after the slimy Obadiah Slope preaches a sermon against the use of music in worship, Mr. Harding reflects:

“If there is no music, there is no mystery.   If there is no mystery, there is no God.  If there is no mystery, there is no faith.”

Finally, in a tender scene of parting, a benediction given to the bedesmen by Mr. Harding, the loyal bedesman responds, and Mr. Harding’s reply:

“May you live content and die trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and thankful to Almighty God for the good things He has given you.  God bless you all, my friends.”

“I have now to forgive those who have injured me, and then to die.”

“That’s all any of us can hope for.”

Barchester Towers

My beloved Latin teacher thought I would enjoy reading Anthony Trollope.  Since he and his wife have a 100% record for recommending good books, I perked up and began looking.  My rural library had one offering (on tape) of Anthony Trollope and a huge selection of Joanna Trollope (a descendant of AT’s).  I listened to An Old Man’s Love with great enjoyment. Next, I logged on to Librivox and listened to The Warden, the first of his six Barset Chronicles. 

Barchester Towers is the second book in the Barset Chronicles.  Happily, I purchased this book and could make it my own by marking it up.  I like Trollope better than Dickens, and I like Dickens very much.  Trollope, like Dickens, employs descriptive names:  Mr. Slope for an oily clergyman,  Dr. Fillgrave,  Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful,  Dr. and Mrs. Proudie.  Trollope doesn’t surpass Jane Austen, but then who does?

Trollope inserts authorial comments, breaking the rule I pounded into my students: “Don’t write about your writing.”  Some critics (Henry James and W. H. Auden) found this very off-putting; it made me chuckle.  Trollope writes about everyday, ordinary life with grace and perception. What I particularly appreciate is that his bad characters are not entirely evil; his protagonists have failures. And the humor!  Wry observations are crammed with humor.  The best thing is to give you some samples:

The venom of the chaplain’s harangue had worked into his blood, and sapped the life of his sweet contentment.  p.114

Considering how much we are all given to discuss the characters of others, and discuss them often not in the strictest spirit of charity, it is singular how little we are inclinded to think that others can speak ill-naturedly of us, and how angry and hurt we are when proof reaches us that they have done so.  It is hardly too much to say that we all of us occasionally speak of our dearest friends in a manner in which those dearest friends would very little like to hear themselves mentioned; and that we nevertheless expect that our dearest freinds shall invariably speak of us as though they were blind to all our faults, but keenly alive to every shade of our virtues.   p. 185

Mr. Arabin declared that the morning light at any rate was perfect, and deprecated any interference with the lime trees.  And then they took a stroll out among the trim parterres, and Mr. Arabin explained to Mrs. Bold the difference between a naiad and a dryad, and dilated on vases and the shapes of urns.  Miss Thorne busied herself among her pansies; and her brother, finding it quite impracticable to give anything of a peculiarly Sunday tone to the conversation, abandoned the attempt, and had it out with the archdeacon about the Bristol guano.  p. 220

Mrs. Quiverful did not mention the purpose of her business, nor did the farmer alloy his kindness by any unseemly questions.    p. 237

He wished to be what he called “safe” with all those whom he had admitted to the penetralia of his house and heart […] His feelings towards his friends were, that while they stuck to him he would stick to them; that he would work with them shoulder to shoulder; that he would be faithful to the faithful.  He knew nothing of that beautiful love which can be true to a false friend.    p. 269

By seven [a.m.] she was dressed and down.  Miss Thorne knew nothing of the modern luxury of déshabilles.  She would as soon have thought of appearing before her brother without her stockings as without her stays; and Miss Thorne’s stays were no trifle.  p. 346

He [Mr Slope] longed in his heart to be preaching at her.  ‘Twas thus that he was ordinarily avenged of sinning mortal men and women. Could he at once have ascended his Sunday rostrum and fulminated at her such denunciations as his spirit delighted in, his bosom would have been greatly eased.  p. 399

What’s An Austen Reader Supposed To Do?

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

So you love Jane Austen.  You’ve read all her novels and plan to re-read them with great pleasure the rest of your days.  When you come to the end of Austen, you always have an appetite for…more!  You start in with the Brontes and read through their works.  This is a good thing.  There are many, many good books in different genres, true.  But there are times you want a nice cup of tea and a little touch of Britain in the night. 

It was because Anthony Trollope’s name was said in the same sentence as Austen’s, and from a friend I trust, that I decided to go exploring.  I’ve only read one book (audio book), so I’m no Trollope expert.  But–BUT– I thoroughly enjoyed An Old Man’s Love, which was unfortunately the extent of our rural library’s Trollope collection.  This work seems a little obscure: Frank Magill’s Cyclopedia of World Authors didn’t list the title among Trollope’s principal works.

An Old Man’s Love was a sweet romance, a lovely love story.  Here’s the gist: A young woman, Mary Lawrie (20 something), is left orphaned.  A friend of her father’s, the 50 year old bachelor, William Whittlestaff decides to take her in and provide for her.   He  falls in love with her and asks her to marry him.  She hesitates and acknowledges to him that her heart is with a young man, John Gordon, from whom she has not heard a word in three years, and with whom no words of love were ever exchanged.  Whittlestaff presses Mary, confident that her infatuation was a childish one and sure that he can give her a good life.  She reluctantly agrees and decides to do her duty to the man who has been so kind to her, a man for whom she has genuine affection. Within hours of giving her promise to marry Whittlestaff, John Gordon, home from the diamond mines, knocks on the door asking for Mary.

The ensuing conflict between Mary’s love for Gordon and her promise given to Whittlestaff occupies the rest of the book. A promise is a promise! Trollope portrays so accurately that inner impulse to be a martyr  that seems so noble at night, but sticks like a bone in the throat in the daylight. Hearing the tale unfold was like riding a see-saw; it was impossible to guess how it would come out.  Each man is so certain that it would be in Mary’s best interest to be with himself. There are two Dickensian characters, the housekeeper and the vicar, which add comic relief to the drama.
From An Old Man’s Love “Here he was wont to sit and read his Horace.  And think of the affairs of the world as Horace depicted them.  Many a morsel of wisdom he had here made his own.  And to then endeavor to think whether the wisdom had in truth been taken home by the poet to his own bosom, or had only been a glitter of the intellect, never appropriated for any useful purpose.”

“A novel should give a picture of common life enlivened by humor and sweetened by pathos.”  Anthony Trollope

“His great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual.” Henry James on Anthony Trollope.

It isn’t the satisfying protein of Austen, but we still need some carbs in our life, and Trollope is a good carb.