Sunday, July 28, 2019

Can You Forgive Her?

I have started on the great Palliser novels by Anthony Trollope, reading the first in the series, Can You Forgive Her?, over the past month.  I think I'm going to like this series. I really enjoyed the Barset series, and was a bit skeptical that the Palliser series could top it, but I enjoyed delving into the political world of Great Britain in the 1860s, which I didn't find as arcane as the ecclesiastical world of the Barset novels.

There are three main female characters, all trying to figure out how to navigate the great institution of marriage. Alice Vavosor is the primary character whose primary character flaw is indecision based on an overdeveloped sense of honor. She is the one about whom Trollope, the narrator, asks the question in the title--I found her maddening, naive, and a bit wooden.

Thank goodness Trollope gave us her friend and cousin Lady Glencora Palliser to shake things up and make the story much more interesting than if Alice held center stage all alone. Lady Glencora is married to Plantagenet Palliser, an up and coming politician and heir of the Duke of Omnium , self-absorbed, but tender-hearted in a stiff upper lip way. Lady Glencora is desperate for some romance in her life, and manages to get her emotionally-impaired husband to pay some attention to her.

Speaking of romance, I think my favorite character is the widow Mrs. Greenow, one of Alice's aunts, and a terrible flirt but also a consummate manager of people. She unashamedly orchestrates a manly man to be her devoted second husband and arranges the love lives of nearly all her circle of friends and relatives. She is truly a force to be reckoned with.

With all this love and marriage, angst and drama going on, it's easy to see why the parliamentary proceedings, which are supposed to be the focus of the story, merely provide the backdrop or context for the marital proceedings. I am eager to find out how Trollope handles the interplay of domestic and national issues in the subsequent novels, but I found Can You Forgive Her? to be perfectly balanced and immensely satisfying to read.

One final note, I found George Vavasor, another of Alice's cousins and one of men she cannot make up her mind to marry, to be quite an original villain. For roughly the first third of the book, I almost liked him and then came to utterly detest him as his true nature emerged--good thing he had that scar on his face to signal his villainy! Likewise, it wasn't until halfway through the novel that I had any level of appreciation for John Grey, George's opposite in virtually every respect. I thought Trollope did an excellent job of not letting the reader get too much insight into either man too early in the story but let us discover, along with Alice, the relative worth of each.

This is the 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 and one of the final four classics I need to read to complete the Classics Club Challenge. It's also the first Big Book I've finished for the Big Book Summer Challenge 2019.


  1. As you know I love Trollope. I am actually in the middle of Orley Farm.

    This was indeed a great book. I liked the Palliser books a lot though I found the Barset books a little more satisfying. Trollope does delve into a bit of political philosophy later on. Also, many of the themes and events that occurred in this first book kind of come back throughout the series but especially in the last novel.

  2. I found Alice rather maddening as well and like you I initially was attracted to George and bored by Mr. Grey. But Lady Glen is WONDERFUL. The whole series is worth reading (though I’m only up to book four so far) for glimpses of her.

    Like Brian above, I still prefer the Barsetshire Chronicles over the Palliser series. They have more heart IMO. But any Trollope is worth reading I think!

  3. This is the Anthony Trollope book that's been sitting on my shelf for years now, making me feel guilty every time I see it that I haven't read it yet. :) If only it weren't quite so long.

  4. I really enjoyed all of the Palliser novels, but some how O had forgotten the plot of the first one. Your terse summary is a welcome reminder. So glad you liked it. My favorites are still awaiting you! :)

  5. Congratulations on completing a Big Book, Jane! I've never read any Trollope, but of course, I've heard good things. This sounds very interesting - glad you enjoyed it!

    By the way, you never linked up your post to sign-up for the Big Book Challenge - you can still do that - just add your link to the first list of sign-ups on the challenge page. So glad you are participating again this summer!


    2019 Big Book Summer Challenge

  6. I have not heard of these classics. I will have to add them to my list!

  7. The Pallisers are on my radar but first I have to finish the Barchester series - it's slow progress though i am enjoying them. Good to know the Pallisers will be just as enjoyable