23 May 2012
Book Review: Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope
Maybe I was just in the mood for this; maybe the timing was right. For whatever reason, though, I really enjoyed Framley Parsonage. I need to point out that, in many ways, there's a lot wrong with this book. There are far too many characters and far too many interweaving story lines. As a result, there's so much going on that the conclusion -- when all these different elements find a resolution -- is a little hard to get excited about. In Doctor Thorne, the story was about one couple in particular, so it was easy to remain interested in what was going to happen. In Framley Parsonage, there are four couples, in addition to numerous peripheral characters who all seem to have a place in the end of the story. It's a bit much.
And yet I really enjoyed it.
Part of my enjoyment, I suspect, is that I loved the character of Lucy Robarts. Lucy has shades of Eleanor Bold about her, so it was nice to see another character like this. I also enjoyed the somewhat stifling Lady Lufton who, for all her faults, proved to be a fascinating, well-meaning person. And, of course, it was nice to run into Mrs Proudie again and to see how Trollope manipulates events to be not in her favor.
As for plot, this one is a little tricky. Trollope notes at the beginning of the story that his hero is going to be Mark Robarts (Lucy's older brother). This is true enough, although I didn't find him to be a particularly interesting character, and had the story been more about him than it really was I would probably have an entirely different opinion of it. Robarts is a clergyman with a neat little position in Framley Parsonage, on the estate of Lady Lufton. (He went to school with Lady Lufton's son, who bears the unfortunate name of Ludovic Lufton, and Lady Lufton took a special interest in her son's friend.) The young clergyman married and now lives a quiet and pretty comfortable life. When his father dies, his sister Lucy comes to live with him and his wife and two children, and they make up quite a neat little family.
All is going well until Robarts begins mixing in the company of those he probably should stay away from. He sees these new friends as positive for his social standing, but they also prove to be negative for his financial standing. Without entirely realizing what happens, Robarts finds himself financially committed to the notorious Mr Sowerby, a member of Parliament who has a less-than-stellar reputation for playing fast and loose with cash. Robarts certainly doesn't have the money, but Sowerby promises that won't be a problem. And of course it is a problem later on. Much of the story is about the way that Robarts tries to deal with this, justifying it to himself, searching for options, hiding the problem from his wife (who really is a lovely person and who doesn't fault him for making a mistake).
Like I said before, this isn't really all that interesting, so it's the other elements of the story that surround Mark Robarts and his experience that make Framley Parsonage a good read. I mentioned above that I loved the character of Lucy Robarts. In her case, Lucy and Ludovic Lufton fall in love, but his position in society makes the match somewhat undesirable. There's also the story line about Griselda Grantly, Archdeacon Grantly's daughter. Lady Lufton wants her to marry Ludovic, but the young man is disinclined. It turns out that Griselda, for all her physical beauty, has about as much personality as a piece of cardboard. She ends up with another peer who needs a personality-free wife to look good on his arm. (His name, I kid you not, is Lord Dumbello. I love Trollope's habit of naming peripheral figures in the story according to their character.) Mrs Proudie's unattractive daughter Olivia makes a few appearances and ultimately marries -- though nowhere near as well as Griselda (which is a huge disappointment for Mrs Proudie). And Martha Dunbarton, who was introduced in Doctor Thorne, makes another appearance in Framley Parsonage. This time, Miss Dunbarton is set to become a Mrs, and the husband of her choosing might be the most interesting of the story.
It's somewhat difficult to explain what I liked about Framley Parsonage. I can only say that I did like it, and I might have enjoyed it more than Doctor Thorne, which was good but became a little contrived toward the end. This certainly isn't a stand-alone read, but I do recommend it for those working their way through the Barchester novels and interested to see what happens next.
Year of publication: 1861
Number of pages: 360