My commentary contains major spoilers.
Framley Parsonage is the Fourth book in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series. Once again we get an enormously enjoyable and fun, yet aesthetically strong novel. Trollope introduces a host of new main characters. In this entry, however, we also see the return of lots of old characters from the previous books in both small parts as well as in moderately important supporting rolls.
This novel involves lots of complex, intertwined subplots as well as character interaction. There are two major plot threads. The first involves Mark Robarts, a young clergyman who becomes involved in politics as a way to advance his career and social standing. Roberts falls in with a bad character, Mr. Sowerby, who is a Member of Parliament. The politician takes advantage of Mark’s weakness and nearly ruins the clergyman and his family financially. Fanny Robarts is Mark ‘s wife whose wisdom and strength of character contrasts with Mark’s relative weaknesses.
The second major thread involves Mark’s sister Lucy. Mark’s sibling is wonderfully drawn persona. She lacks many popular but meaningless social graces but is intelligent and emotionally substantive. In a plot device somewhat common for Trollope, Lucy becomes the subject of romantic the interest of Lord Lufton. The young Lufton’s mother, Lady Lufton, opposes the match due to Lucy’s lower social class as well as her personality quirks.
A of the more interesting subplots involves the very unusual courtship between Doctor Thorne and Miss Dunstable. These two very interesting and offbeat characters, initially introduced in earlier books, reappear in this novel.
Once again we are treated to Trollope’s masterful creation of complex characters as well his creative and amusing metafiction. At one point the author actually seems to argue with himself and at another point his narration takes on the aspects of a Greek Chorus.
One might conclude that this work really does not break much new ground as Trollope covers a lot of territory that he has already trodden upon. On the other hand, another way at looking at the issue is to consider that is the author is taking a few situations with enormous literary appeal, and running different characters with different personality types through those situations in order to see how they develop and resolve themselves differently. It is these differences that make it all very interesting and entertaining. I will thus concentrate upon this aspect of Trollope’s work.
Take the relationship between Lucy Roberts and Lord Lufton. In many ways it is similar to the situation that developed between Mary Thorne and Frank Gresham (Two characters that appear in minor roles in this book) in Doctor Thorne. Both relationships involve young men from families belonging to the gentry, whose wealth has declined, and who fall in love with poorer women of slightly lower classes. Both young men have mothers who are opposed to and fight against the marriages. Both include young women, who though they are in love with the their suitors, are prepared to refuse marriage for honorable reasons. One certainly might accuse Trollope of repeating himself. In some ways he is. However, there are variations on the theme that lends one to suspect that the author was just trying to play out certain situations in varying ways.
There are indeed important differences between these predicaments. In Doctor Thorne, Frank’s mother, Lady Arabella, comes close to monstrous. She is overbearing, narcissistic, and hypercritical as well as a bully who dominates all who are around her. She is terribly cruel to Mary and shows herself to be the epitome of a hypocrite when she accepts her prospective Daughter – In – Law only when she finds that Mary is the heir to an enormous fortune.
In Framley ParsonageLady Lufton is also difficult, somewhat overbearing and is very good at controlling the situation around her. She does not like it when things do not go her way. At first glace one may think that Trollope is really copying himself. However, unlike Lady Arabella, Lady Lufton is complex and shows humanity early on. When she unfairly picks an argument with her good friend Fanny Robarts, the matriarch initially banishes Fanny from her manor in anger. Within an hour however, Lady Lufton is terribly regretful of her treatment of her friend and makes a genuine apology.
Later, Lady Lufton schemes to arraign a marriage between Lord Lufton and the vacuous Griselda Grantly in order to achieve social and economic gain. When her son tells her however, that he could never love Griselda, Lady Lufton shows surprising sensitivity and immediately forgoes her plans.
An example of Lady Lufton’s complexity is illustrated here as she begins to be won over by Lucy’s strength of character,
“But, nevertheless, we may say that as Lady Lufton sate that morning in her own room for two hours without employment, the star of Lucy Robarts was gradually rising in the firmament. After all, love was the food chiefly necessary for the nourishment of Lady Lufton,— the only food absolutely necessary. She was not aware of this herself, nor probably would those who knew her best have so spoken of her. They would have declared that family pride was her daily pabulum, and she herself would have said so too, calling it, however, by some less offensive name.”
Eventually, though she has the power to stop the marriage, after enormous introspection, Lady Lofton relents. She recognizes not only the virtues inherent in Lucy’s character, but the value inherent in the happiness of the young people. One reason that I love Trollope so much is that he continually piles on levels intricacy. Even after Lady Lofton’s change of heart, she continues to display a certain degree of overbearingness.
There is also a difference between Mary and Lucy. Mary is outgoing, vivacious, is intelligent and posses a strong and courageous character. Lucy is just as intelligent, strong and moral. But unlike Mary she is quite and introspective. She does not play the social game well. People tend to like her only after they have known her for a time. Thus Trollope throws a different set of people into similar situations, almost as if he is experimenting.
A question for me is it worth to replay of these scenarios? Is this the same old same old with characters that are just a little different? My conclusion is that it is worth it. I find it to be both enjoyable and enlightening that we see similar social situations run through with different players. How often have I read a book and wondered how a different character would have handled the situation. Such an approach over a long series of books tells us a lot about people. Admittedly some readers might become bored with this and find it uncreative. For me however, I find that helps me to become engaged in a deep way with Trollope’s work. I have similar opinions on the works of Philip Roth that I expressed here.
Despite, or because of its repeated themes, this novel is full of the wonderful things that make Trollope such an enlightening but enjoyable writer. As I am known to comment, there is a lot more going on here then I have even mentioned. I will thus be posting at least one more entry on this book. As I am obsessive about reading series in order I will always recommend experiencing the earlier books first. However this novel can be easily be read as standalone. I am really beginning to love Anthony Trollope.
My commentary on the second book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Barchester Towers is here.
My commentary on Trollop’s unusual Pont of View is here.