Framley Parsonage (1860-61) is Trollope's fourth Barsetshire novel, and it is excellent. Here's the Simon Vance-narrated version.

Henry James made much of Trollope's nubile young ladies. This time the heroine is the winsome Lucy Robarts, the sister of the parson. Don't trust the current (11 Mar 2014) Wikipedia summary of Lucy and Lord Lufton's relationship: "The couple are deeply in love and the young man proposes " Phah. It's more complicated than that. Listen to this passage, in which Lucy mocks herself for being attracted to a lord:

"I'll go into a home, I think," continued Lucy. "You know what those homes are?" Mrs. Robarts assured her that she knew very well, and then Lucy went on: "A year ago I should have said that I was the last girl in England to think of such a life, but I do believe now that it would be the best thing for me. And then I'll starve myself, and flog myself, and in that way I'll get back my own mind and my own soul."

"Your own soul, Lucy!" said Mrs. Robarts, in a tone of horror.

"Well, my own heart, if you like it better; but I hate to hear myself talking about hearts. I don't care for my heart. I'd let it go—with this young popinjay lord or anyone else, so that I could read, and talk, and walk, and sleep, and eat, without always feeling that I was wrong here—here—here," and she pressed her hand vehemently against her side. "What is it that I feel, Fanny? Why am I so weak in body that I cannot take exercise? Why cannot I keep my mind on a book for one moment? Why can I not write two sentences together? Why should every mouthful that I eat stick in my throat? Oh, Fanny, is it his legs, think you, or is it his title? (Chapter 26)

As fine a creation as Lucy is, even better is the no-longer-young but still eminently eligible Miss Dunstable. (She's an heiress.) We first met her in Doctor Thorne, where she was a marriage prospect for the young Frank Gresham, whom she utterly outshone in character and wit. In Framley Parsonage, Miss Dunstable is once again the object of proposals, but interestingly, the most significant of these is conducted by proxy, through the suitor's sister. And it is one of two, or more precisely two and a half, by-proxy proposals in the book. But just listen to Miss Dunstable as she welcomes guests to an evening party at her London home:

Dr. Thorne merely gave her his hand, and then prepared to pass on.

"Don't go, doctor," she said; "for heaven's sake, don't go yet. I don't know when I may catch you if you get in there. I shan't be able to follow you for the next two hours. Lady Meredith, I am so much obliged to you for coming—your mother will be here, I hope. Oh, I am so glad! From her you know that is quite a favour. You, Sir George, are half a sinner yourself, so I don't think so much about it."

"Oh, quite so," said Sir George; "perhaps rather the largest half."

"The men divide the world into gods and giants," said Miss Dunstable. "We women have our divisions also. We are saints or sinners according to our party. The worst of it is, that we rat almost as often as you do." Whereupon Sir George laughed and passed on.

(The "gods" are Liberal politicians and the "giants" are Tories. Political power shifts several times in the novel, so the allusion is apt. Here's the next passage.)

"I know, doctor, you don't like this kind of thing," she continued, "but there is no reason why you should indulge yourself altogether in your own way, more than another—is there, Frank?"

"I am not so sure but he does like it," said Mr. Gresham. "There are some of your reputed friends whom he owns that he is anxious to see."

"Are there? Then there is some hope of his ratting too. But he'll never make a good staunch sinner; will he, Mary? You're too old to learn new tricks; eh, doctor?"

"I am afraid I am," said the doctor, with a faint laugh.

"Does Dr. Thorne rank himself among the army of saints?" asked Mrs. Harold Smith.

"Decidedly," said Miss Dunstable. "But you must always remember that there are saints of different orders; are there not, Mary? and nobody supposes that the Franciscans and the Dominicans agree very well together. Dr. Thorne does not belong to the school of St. Proudie, of Barchester; he would prefer the priestess whom I see coming round the corner of the staircase, with a very famous young novice at her elbow." (Chapter 29) **

Trollope shines in his parties: in Framley Parsonage, see also Chapter 17; in The Warden, Chapter 6; in Barchester Towers, Chapters 35 through 42; in Doctor Thorne, Chapters 5 and 6. He moves from one character to another to create a real sense of multiple, lively conversations (and eating, singing, dancing, sport, etc.).

Archdeacon Grantly and his wife are minor characters in this novel, as are the Proudies. (See an immortal clash between the two mothers in Chapter 45.) Mr Harding and his daughter show up for paragraph or so.

I have spoken before of Trollope's complacency. The same judgment applies to this novel, and the first passage quoted above contains a line of dialogue that sums it up well: "Things always do come right when no one has acted wrongly." In fairness we should add Lucy's reply: "Yes, when nobody has done wrongly. That's what papa used to call begging the question." But this is only to qualify and not to overturn a rather rosy view of the world.


** Two of my quotations refer to Catholic or Anglo-Catholic ecclesial institutions. This is pure accident, and is not representative of the novel as a whole.

AuthorSeth Holler