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.
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.