Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review: Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

It is difficult to review Framley Parsonage without also discussing Doctor Thorne. The romantic half of the novel seemed to me a revision of the romantic plot of Doctor Thorne, though a far superior model.

As with Doctor Thorne, Trollope leaves the confines of Barchester to look at the countryside. Here, too, he deals more with class issues and with the adjustments the aristocracy is slowly making to the many changes in the nineteenth century. He is moderately chatty, though not as much as in Barchester Towers.

While the romance is something of a retread, the motivations and actions of the characters are more comprehensible and nuanced. Lord Lufton and Lucy meet, become friends, and gradually realize how highly they value this friendship, making it much less necessary to insist on his status as a hero. Also, where the Lady Arabella was largely a one-dimensional nasty, making Mary's deference to her increasingly frustrating, Lady Lufton is someone whose good opinion is worth something. She may be overly conscious of her noble blood, but she's also kind, generous, and loving. Thus Lucy's hesitations make sense, even to a twenty-first century reader. All of the other characters benefit from greater depth and nuance in their characters, and there is plenty of interplay beyond and around the twinned main plots to keep things moving , if not at a racing speed (this is a Victorian novel we're talking about), at something approaching a good, brisk walking pace with plenty of stops to enjoy the scenery and plenty of scenery worth enjoying.

The other half of the main plot, the financial and moral difficulties of Mark Robarts, is more difficult to read, not because Mark was unlikeable or unrealized, but because in some ways he is too well realized. His errors and embarrassments often had me wincing on his behalf, and I find it easier, as a reader, to share someone's sorrow than their embarrassment.

All in all, Framley Parsonage was a worthwhile read. So far, I've enjoyed Trollpe's town novels more than his country ones, but all the same, I'm glad I'm reading the series. I'm getting more and more inclined to try the Palliser novels some day.

A note on editions: I read the paperback Penguin Edition. It was well bound and easy to hold and came with a decent supply of endnotes. They are well-organized and easy to locate, but found myself wishing they were more detailed and frequent. For example, I could follow the progress of the bills Robarts signs well enough for the purposes of the plot, but I would still have liked a fuller explanation of the money-lending, interest, and bill selling going on behind the scenes.

For those of you with ereaders, Project Gutenberg has several formats (almost certainly without notes). Librivox has a free audio version read by a number of readers.

(1)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. My review of Dr. Thorne was on this blog, last week. The rest of the series will be here, at one a week until the end!

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