Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope

My favorite type of novel is when good people are confronted with moral or ethical challenges that shake them to their core.  Dr. Thorne, the third in Trollope's Barsetshire novels, is just such a story and it was absolutely wonderful.  Not only did Dr. Thorne strive mightily to do the best he could to save the man whose death would materially benefit those he loved most dearly, but he did so without being sanctimonious.  I'm also currently rereading Mansfield Park, to mark the 200th anniversary of its publication this year, and the contrast between priggish, gossipy Edmund Bertram and Dr. Thorne is stark.

Dr Thorne may be my favorite Trollope so far--much as I enjoyed The Warden and Barchester Towers--Dr. Thorne is set in a village not a cathedral town, and the focus of the story is on the rocky road to matrimony experienced by two worthy young people rather than church politics.  Although there are some first rate stories in the two other books, there is a good deal that is tempting to skim.  Not so with Dr. Thorne--except for a relatively brief foray into politics around a local election--the story follows the Austenian formula and stays focused on two to three families and their interactions.

I absolutely loved Mary Thorne.  She is sweet enough to be a Dickens heroine, but with a saucy edge that makes her refreshingly real and not cardboard.  And her relationship with her uncle, the eponymous Dr. Thorne, is lovely. It reminded me of Molly Gibson's with her father before he went and remarried in Gaskell's masterpiece, Wives and Daughters.

The hero of the story, Frank Gresham, is also a charmer--actually he seems to be the prototype of a Heyer hero--not the brooding one but the rather hapless pup who grows into a manly man, I'm thinking of Freddy Standen here, of Cotillion.

Frank's mother is quite the Mrs. Norris, in fact, she was almost too awful to be believable.  And his father rather reminded me of Lord Grantham.  In fact, there is a Downton Abbeyish air to Dr. Thorne--the upper class coming upon somewhat hard times and endeavoring to marry their way into saving their estate.  I'm sure Julian Fellowes knows his Trollope.

I don't mean to give the impression that Dr. Thorne is a frilly, lightweight classic. No, it tackles all sorts of issues--politics, class conflict, alcoholism, illegitimacy, profligacy--but Trollope does such a fine job of balancing the tightness of the main story with the larger canvas of the nineteenth century rural/gentry world that you can really have, much like in an Austen novel, a character-driven story in what feels like a very real and complex world.

I couldn't find any reference to an adaptation of Dr. Thorne--what is the BBC waiting for?  I vote for an adaptation of this marvelous story over yet another David Copperfield or Jane Eyre or Vanity Fair.

This is my first book in the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2014.


  1. I really enjoyed this book, and Dr. Thorne became one of my favorite characters, and high on my list of fictional uncles. I l agree with you about Mary - Trollope seems to keep his young women just sweet enough without tipping into saccharine. I've been thinking I need to re-read this, since I've only read it once, and you've convinced me!

  2. I've only read The Warden of the Barsetshire books - I really enjoyed it. I hope to read more of Trollope this year ... this one sounds very good.

  3. I will be starting this one very soon. As you know I am working my way through the Chronicles of Barsetshire books and this one is next on my list. The fact that this one was your favorite says alot since the previous two were so strong. The characters that Trollope creates are so strong indeed. Few of them, even the very bad ones, are cardboard.

  4. Trollope is one of my favourite authors and I have read his Barchester Chronicles many times

  5. This sounds wonderful! I plan to return to Trollope after I finish Middlemarch.

  6. I loved Doctor Thorne too, one of my favorite Trollopes so far. And he shows up again in a later book as a secondary character, but with a good storyline. I'll say no more -- just keep reading Trollope! You won't be sorry. I've just started He Knew He Was Right and it's really good so far. I've read 11 Trollopes so far -- only 36 to go!

    1. Trollope's output was truly staggering. You could devote yourself to just reading him for years!

  7. Jane, thanks for the nudge. I enjoyed the first two in the Barsetshire series ... why have I not continued? I shall correct that soon! Thanks for the review.

  8. Hi Jane,
    I enjoy Trollope also. After I had read a couple of the Barsetshire books, I happened to stumble upon and read his autobiography. It made me a bigger fan of his. You might enjoy reading it if you haven't already.

  9. I just reread your commentary as I have put mine up.

    You raise an interesting point that this book is not lightweight. Like all the Trollope that I have read the novel is about real important things yet IS so very fun and in a way comforting. Trollope seems to achieve this very elusive combination better then any writer that know.

  10. Comparisons to Wives and Daughters and Cotillion have me sold on this book! I just read Barchester Towers for my Classics Club list and enjoyed it more than my previous Trollope (The Way We Live Now). Sounds like I would enjoy this one even more.