Friday, January 6, 2012

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

I'm posting a bit late, but Doctor Thorne is my first book of the year and it counts for three challenges:  the Victorian Challenge 2012, the 2012 Classics Challenge; and the 2012 Chunkster Challenge!  I'm especially pleased because even though I didn't include it my TBR challenge, it's been sitting on my shelves for more than a year, since I borrowed it from my mother.

Last year, I read Anthony Trollope's wonderful Barchester Towers for the Classics Circuit, and I just loved it.  I can't believe I waited a whole year to read the next book in the series!

Here's the setup of the novel:  set in Barchester mostly in the 1850s, Doctor Thorne is the really the story of love of two young people, Frank Gresham, the heir to Greshamsbury, a large landed estate; and Mary Thorne, the niece of the eponymous doctor.

Frank Gresham has just come of age, the only boy in a large family.  Years ago, his father had a good income and married his mother, Lady Arabella, the daughter of a local noble.  The combination of a large family and a wife with aristocratic taste has reduced the family income so that they're barely hanging on financially, and Frank Senior has heavily mortgaged the family estate and sold off part of the property to a crass nouveau riche baronet.  The pressure is on Frank to marry a wealthy heiress and save the family fortune, but he's fallen for the lovely Mary is his childhood playmate. Unfortunately, her origins are much humbler.  She has no fortune, no connections and no aristocratic blood -- in fact, it's a family secret that Mary is actually illegitimate.  Shocking!

Frank's family -- particularly his snobby, hypocritical mother -- is pressuring him to throw Mary over in favor of an heiress to preserve the family estate.  Meanwhile, Mary is pressured to give Frank up or be ostracized from country society forever.   The book is almost 500 pages, and most of it is spent entirely on this one theme.  Even though I'm sure the story could have used some editing, I enjoyed every minute of it.  Trollope is really quite witty -- the omniscient narrator makes plenty of tart asides and wry observations about the landed gentry, the upstart nouveau riche and the hypocrisy of the nobility when it comes to blood versus money -- they're fine with overlooking the humble origins of a commoner, as long as they have a fat bank account.  And God forbid if someone of their class is willing to work for a living!

Like Barchester, this book has some of the same themes about country life and gentle satire as Jane Austen.  There's one scene in particular that reminded me quite strongly of a famous scene in Pride and Prejudice, that of the big showdown between Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, which in my opinion is one of the best parts of the book.  Honestly, if you've read all of Jane Austen, I'd strongly recommend taking up Trollope instead of reading one of the silly sequels that are all the rage.  He did write 47 novels plus a lot of other stuff, so you won't run out of his works any time soon!

Doctor Thorne comes third in the series after Barchester Towers, but the two books really don't have any connection other than a brief mention of a couple of the characters, and the fact that it's peripherally located somewhere in Barsetshire.  I'm definitely not waiting another year before I continue with the Barsetshire Chronicles -- I've already checked Framley Parsonage out from the library and it will probably be my next Victorian novel and the next for my Chunkster Challenge as well.

24 comments:

  1. I only started reading Trollope last year, but liked The Warden quite a bit and am looking forward to Barchester Towers after I tackle Little Dorrit in Feb. I think you're right--Trollope is better than most Austenesque novels.

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  2. I love Trollope's narrative voice, it just draws me right into his stories, and like you I enjoy all the asides and the commentary. I've only read Doctor Thorne once, so I'm probably due for a re-read. I love Framley Parsonage for itself, and also because it sets up so much in The Last Chronicle of Barset.

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  3. I haven't read anything by Trollope yet. This sounds like a great read. Thanks for the enthusiastic review!

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  4. I'm not familiar with Trollope at all...sounds very interesting and I will have to add something of his to my list. Not sure I should start with a chunkster though since I'm committed to War and Peace and Les Miserables already...what else would you recommend?

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  5. You make Trollope sound so wonderful, and I've had a bad time with him. I may give the Barchester Towers series a try. Great review, as always.

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  6. Jane GS -- Barchester is great, even better than The Warden! And if you have time someday, I highly recommend The Way We Live Now -- it's long, about 800 pages, but it's just wonderful.

    Lisa May -- I'm hoping to get through the entire series this year -- I broke down and ordered The Last Chronicle online because my library doesn't have a copy. It's so long!

    Vasilly -- I think Trollope is horribly underrated, he's just as good as Dickens.

    Peppermint PhD -- Trollope is just great, and he doesn't get nearly enough attention, in my opinion! My first was The Way We Live Now which is about 800 pages, but it was a really fast read. I think he's much easier than Dickens. But The Warden is quite short and he has a lot that are under 500 pages. I don't think I could tackle Les Mis AND W&P in one year!!

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  7. Col -- I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy Trollope the first time around -- wasn't it one of the Pallisers series? I started the first one a couple of years ago and got stuck on it, so I can understand that. The Warden starts out slowly, but it's worth getting through because it sets up Barchester Towers so well, and it's quite short. Trollope does sermonize a bit but not unbearably, in my opinion.

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  8. I've been kind of circling Trollope but your recommendation of him for Austen lovers just sealed the deal. I will definitely be reading something by him sooner rather than later (I do need to get started on some Dickens first but after that.)

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  9. I've chosen Trollope for a 2012 challenge too. I've gone for Can You Forgive Her, the first in the Palliser series. I'm going to collect it from the library today.

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  10. Thanks for your review, I will definitely try Trollope if I have a chance!

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  11. I'm so excited to read this! It's still right on top of my stack of library books and I had been planning to start with some of the older ones first but I'm not sure I can wait!

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  12. Bookworm 1858 -- love your comment about "circling Trollope" -- like a shark who's about to choose a book! Cue the scary music!

    Joanne -- my library just got copies of Can You Forgive Her? on audiobook and there are SIX people on the waiting list! I wish I knew who all those Trollope fans were, maybe we could start a book group.

    Anachronist -- Trollope is really worth reading if you like Victorian literature. I think he's much easier to read than DIckens.

    Claire (The Captive Reader) -- I really enjoyed it. I could understand if you want to read them in order, but I don't think it's necessary. I love being excited about a new book from the library too.

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  13. This is the year I will finish a Trollope novel! I know I will like him if I just stick to it. This one sounds marvelous and I appreciate knowing that Trollope is a good readalike for Austen.

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  14. I love Trollope too, and Doctor Thorne was one of my favourites in the Barchester series (I've read all but the last one now, *sigh*)!

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  15. Anbolyn -- I don't know if he's exactly a readalike, but I know he was a big fan and there are definitely influences in the Barsetshire series. I don't know if the others are Austenish. I read The Way We Live Now and that one has a lot more politics and satire.

    Eva -- I impulsively ordered The Last Chronicle of Barset online because the library doesn't have it and I want to finish the entire series this year. Of course it took me an entire year to get to Dr. Thorne after Barchester Towers, this may come back to haunt me.

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  16. Why can't you count it for the tbr challenge? they must be announced beforehand?
    I love that I can tell how much you must have enjoyed this.

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    1. Some of the challenges let you change but I'd already chosen my 12 books. I have some overlap but I'm trying to force myself to read some different books for various challenges so they're not all repeating.

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  17. I think you'll really love Framley Parsonage. I'm reading his Palliser series now and really enjoying it.

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    1. I'm really looking forward to it, the reviews I've read have been great. I know Barchester Towers is the most popular, and The Last Chronicle is supposed to be one of his best works but FP sounds good too.

      I really want to read it but I've just started Martin Chuzzlewit and I don't think I can read both Trollope and Dickens at the same time!

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  18. I am half way through the Palliser series! Not loving it like I do Jane Austen, but your comparison makes me think I will really like the Barcester series once I get to them! (I'm aiming for one Palliser a year, so it will be a while yet...)

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    1. I love the Barchester series! I've only read a little of Can You Forgive Her? but it seems like Barchester focuses more on domestic fiction and country life which I really enjoy. I think the Pallisers are more political.

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  19. Great review! I loved this book as well, and adore Anthony Trollope. I will admit though, that it is usually about five years or so between books of the series for me! It's been awhile since I've read Dr. Thorne and Framley Parsonage is on my shelf. I'm hoping to read it for the Victorian Challenge when we focus on Trollope.

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    1. I have unofficially challenged myself to read all of Trollope's novels. He wrote 47 and I've only read four so I'd better get to work!

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  20. You must have felt rightly chuffed to have finished this one, having it fit with so many challenges AND being a shelf-sitter to boot!

    I think that I made the same vow, to continue with Trollope, when I finished my first journey to Barsetshire (The Warden), but I lost track in the middle of the second volume; I need to remedy that!

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