Dr. Thorne is about one-third too long. The joint story of Doctor Thorne and his niece, Mary Thorne, it gets off to a lively start with an engaging heroine, hits the trials and tribulations of her love life, and then stalls.
Mary Thorne is introduced at the top of the world, teasing her best friend, enjoying wordplay, and being as likeable a heroine as anyone could wish. Her difficulties start when she falls in love with wealthy heir to Gresham, Frank, and, worse, he falls in love with her, causing his aristocratic mother to panic and forbid her to come near the house any more. Matters only get worse when rumors spread that she is illegitimate (as she in fact is).
At first, it was easy to sympathize with her and with her guardian, her uncle Doctor Thorne. It was also not too hard to feel the difficulties class and the need for money posed, and to understand why Mary herself might think marriage to Frank unwise. There are also, as with all the Barsetshire books, plenty of subplots to follow: There's Frank's maturing, Dr. Thorne's work to establish his practice, Miss Dunstable's trials as a rich woman in a fashionable, cash-poor world, and the difficulties of a stone mason who has been ennobled and cannot now be at ease with anyone. So, for two-thirds of the book, I was a happy reader.
Then Frank's mother, the Lady Arabella, who is little more than a cardboard caricature of the aristocratic woman, managed another way to exclude Mary, Frank proposed again, Mary refused again, and the cycle repeated. Dr. Thorne, too, although presented as an admirable man, has a couple of moments of true stiff-necked stubbornness that come close to costing Mary both happiness and a chance of an income after he dies.
When finally reached, the ending proved unsatisfactory, though given the complexity of the problems Trollope is presenting, an entirely satisfactory ending is out of the question.
The book is worth reading, or at least, two-thirds worth reading, particularly if you want to read the entire Barsetshire series, but it's not going to make it onto the reread list alongside The Warden and Barchseter Towers.
A note on editions: I alternated between the Librivox audio book and a library-bound hardback that had no endnotes, and, while the book is comprehensible without, I did miss them. For those with ereaders, Project Gutenberg has the book (doubtless without notes), available in several editions.. Librivox has a free audio version,.
(1) For a different (and still Victorian) look at the consequences of illegitimacy, and another complicated balancing act between a heroine who is active and yet still "ladylike" enough to remain likeable, see Collins' No Name. I like Magdalen rather better than Mary, but it's a similar struggle. Or, if you don't mind an heroine with even more domestic virtues, there's Dickens' Bleak House
(2) I started my grand read-and-review of the Barsetshire Chronicles over at The Geek Girl Project. My review of The Warden is up there, as is my review of Barchester Towers. The rest of the series will be here, at one a week until the end!