Classics Review: Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope


Framley Parsonage is the eleventh Anthony Trollope novel I have read, ten of them just in the last couple years, so I think I am getting the hang of his style. The man could sure crank out some novels! I never get tired of them. They are character-heavy and as addictive as “Downton Abbey” (but make no mistake, waaay better than “Downton Abbey”). Sure, British Victorian culture might be weird and alien to a 20th to 21st century American, but lately my own culture has become so weird and alien that the Victorians are beginning to look sane and rational.

In Framley Parsonage we are introduced to Mark Robarts, the good-looking eldest son of a financially successful physician. Doctors have an interesting position in Trollope novels. They are generally a respectable bunch and can become wealthy, but their status among the aristocracy is lowly, I suppose because they work for their living. Young Mark gets to go to school at Harrow and Cambridge where he becomes friends with Lord Lufton, and eventually receives the patronage of his friend’s mother Lady Lufton and an excellent living (900 pounds per year) as a parson in the village of Framley.

Mark Robarts is one of Trollope’s tribe of charming, likable (at least Trollope likes him), but flawed young men. Trollope does not like all of his flawed young men (Ferdinand Lopez in The Prime Minister comes to mind). The ones he does not like come to a bad end; the ones he does like are rescued from their difficulties and learn their lesson. Such is the power of the omniscient author.

At the strong suggestion of Lady Lufton, Mark marries a sweet girl named Fanny and by age 26 is established in his career, happily married, and already has a couple of kids. And he is bored. He wants more and suffers from the flawed thinking that, although he has had the best of fortune, he is destined for more. His buddy Lord Lufton (Ludawig) has already gotten into all kinds of debt trouble and cost his mother all kinds of money, mostly through his association with a dissipated Member of Parliament named Mr. Sowerby. Soon enough Mark also falls into the snare of Mr. Sowerby, stupidly signs his name to a paper, getting himself deep into financial trouble.

Trollope likes Lord Lufton, so he becomes the supporting hero of the novel. Since our hero Mark is already married, Lord Lufton must provide the romantic interest. There are two ladies in his life: Griselda Grantly, the beautiful blonde daughter of Archdeacon and Mrs. Grantly (who we have met in The Warden and Barchester Towers) and Mark’s feisty younger sister, Lucy Robarts. Lady Lufton is doing everything in her power to fix her precious son up with the Grantly girl, but (of course) Ludawig goes for Lucy.

It is a delight to see how the main characters from Trollope’s other novels weave themselves into the plots as we read through the Chronicles of Barcetshire. We get to enjoy some absolutely delicious backbiting and vicious rivalry between Grantly’s and Bishop and Mrs. Proudy. These two clerical families have not yet recovered from the bad blood created in Barchester Towers and now both have daughters in marriage market. Also in Framley Parsonage, Plantagenet Palliser makes his first appearance. I did not realize how much continuity there is between the Chronicles of Barcetshire novels and the later Palliser series.

* * * * * * *

For readers who have not yet had the pleasure of delving into these two series of six novels each, I will provide a list in chronological order. I cannot get enough of them. I’m so sad that after this one I have only two to go. But except for a recent production of The Way We Live Now I have not even begun to tap into the films and TV based on Trollope’s novels, so I know I have many delights in my future.

The Chronicles of Barcetshire

The Warden (1855)
Barchester Towers (1857)
Doctor Thorne (1858)
Framley Parsonage (1861)
The Small House at Allington (1864)
The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

The Palliser Novels

Can You Forgive Her?(1864)
Phineas Finn (1869)
The Eustace Diamonds (1873)
Phineas Redux (1874)
The Prime Minister (1876)
The Duke’s Children (1879)

About CJ

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Posted on April 14, 2016, in Book reviews, Classics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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