Monday, February 23, 2015

Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage (1861)

Hokay, Framley Parsonage!  So the main plot here…well, actually, I’m not sure there really IS one, quite; it’s certainly more of an ensemble piece than its predecessors.  There are several related stories.  First, we have Mark “my last name looks like a typo” Robarts, a local vicar who foolishly agrees to guarantee a loan for a dissipated MP, Mr. Sowerby, and ends up in all kinds of money trouble.  Then, there’s the inevitable love story, this time involving Mark’s childhood friend Lord Lufton and his sister Lucy.  There’s also a secondary love story—it turns out I was merely premature in my speculation re Doctor Thorne—between the doctor and Miss Dunstable, though it gets surprisingly little ink, and is handled in a rather unromantic, matter-of-fact way.  There’s also a fair bit of passive-aggressive sniping between the Grantlys and Proudies (from Barchester Towers), both of whom are trying to marry off their daughters as best they can.  Finally, there’s some cynical political satire, as Trollope depicts Tories and Whigs in and out of power, no one accomplishing much.

So there’s your lot, more or less (okay, I’m leaving out a few things, but that’s just how it goes with Victorian novels).  There’s something of a tonal shift in this novel—it certainly has moments of comedy, but it’s less overtly comic, and it has an increased focus on money.  Yes, financial concerns were prominent earlier in the series as well, but there it felt more like a convenient plot-device than anything else—something only of concern insofar as it gets in the way of desired romantic pairings.  Here, things get a bit more nitty gritty; during some of the material having to do with Mark, it really felt like I was reading a Balzac novel.

The romance between Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts is pretty good; it’s certainly not original, and the characters aren’t all that well-characterized, but it has the great virtue of not lingering long enough to wear out its welcome.  There’s never any great barrier to them getting married; it’s all down to Lufton’s mother’s vague concerns about marrying withing their class, but these are defeated…basically as soon as she realizes that her son’s gonna be obstinate about it.  She’s lot more sympathetic than Lady Arabella Gresham, who played a similar role in Doctor Thorne.

Crud, what else to say, really?  I certainly enjoyed this a lot more than its predecessor, though it also probably took a bit longer to get going than any of the previous novels in the series.  It did feel a bit diffuse, and in the end it’s sort of difficult to pinpoint it as being about this or that, but that’s okay, I suppose.  According to wikipedia, the next volume, The Small House at Allington, is famous for being the favorite novel of former Prime Minister John Major (Britain’s answer to George H.W. Bush!).  While I’m sure we can all agree that that is one hell of a fucking imprimatur, I think I’m going to have to take a little hiatus from Trollope.  Don’t imagine it’s because I don’t like him, but I like Skittles too—doesn’t mean I won’t feel slightly ill if I try to eat a full pound of them at a go.


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