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.