"Framley Parsonage, " the fourth book in the Barchester series, was perhaps the book that finally sealed Anthony Trollope's reputation as a novelist of the first order. Mark Robarts is a clergyman with ambitions beyond his small country parish of Framley. In a naive attempt to mix in influential circles, he agrees to guarantee a bill for a large sum of money for the disreputable local Member of Parliament, while being helped in his career in the Church by the same hand. But the unscrupulous politician reneges on his financial obligations, and Mark must face the consequences this debt may bring to his family.
Mark Robarts, a young man whose “good fortune followed him throughout his life”, benefitted from his friendship with Lord Lufton whose mother was responsible for the selection of the parish vicar at Framley, since her family provided the yearly living. Although intelligent, Mark really was not suited for the religious life. He longed to continue the sporting life that he loved and while in pursuit of this, he naively signs a promissory note for a local MP, Mr. Sowerby, who has a gambling problem and thumbs his nose at personal responsibility. Soon Mark is in deep trouble as the debt soars and the money lenders are at the door and his reputation is in shreds.
I think it’s safe to say that this volume depended less on plotting mechanisms and more on a gently surging and exhaustive narrative. Some might find this feature tedious and mind-numbing but I fall firmly in Mrs. Gaskell’s camp. As usual, Trollope brings up the differences of class and once again turns it on it’s head.
Trollope brought back many characters from previous volumes including Bishop and Mrs. Proudie, the Grantlys, Doctor Thorne, and Frank and Mary (Thorne) Gresham. But the real star of the entire volume is the fan favorite, Miss Dunstable. The middle aged (40+) and decidedly plain spinster is still fighting off suitors who are maniacally advancing their intentions to marry her for her fortune. She has turned down scads of hopeless gold diggers and although she’s happy enough with her single life, she would marry if the right man came along who had no interest in her wealth. Her droll sense of humor is on full display when her friend, Mrs. Harold Smith, tries to promote her politician brother as a marriage partner without even bothering to conceal the fact that he needs boatloads of money to save himself:
”I ought to ask no questions of the kind when your brother proposes to do me so much honour. As for my expecting the love of a man who condescends to wish to be my husband, that, of course, would be monstrous. What right can I have to think that any man should love me? It ought to be enough for me to know that as I am rich, I can get a husband. What business can such as I have to inquire whether the gentleman who would so honour me really would like my company, or would only deign to put up with my presence in his household?”
It is Trollope’s characterization of everyday life, his witty dialogue, the ordinary characters who create a sense of well-being and knowing that all this will continue in another volume, possibly with a return of favorite characters that make me such a fan of the author.
The main plot is sometimes annoying - clergyman Mark Robarts finds himself in debt and somehow keeps making it worse. However, the relationship between Lord Lufton and Mark's sister, Lucy Robarts, is wonderfully characterized. Mark starts out with everything one needs in life: a wife he loves, children, a secure and pleasant living as the vicar at Framley and the benevolent patronage of Lady Lufton. Of course, he can only go down from there. Mixing with a loose set leads him to debt. At times, his judgment is so bad, you just want to shake him, but the truth is that debt is still common today.
Trollope sometimes seems to be writing the same romance subplot - class conflicted love. In this series, the men tend to be titled or well-off and fall in love with women from a lower social status. The formula changed a bit in the Palliser novels, where the women had the money/position and their loves were poor upstarts. Although Trollope repeats the theme here in his love side-story, I enjoyed the fact that he developed the relationship from its start to the inevitable happy conclusion, a departure from his usual depictions. A rather large generalization from both of his series, but it seems that the author has two kinds of romantic relationships - childhood sweethearts (so no need to describe how they fell in love, just assumed they grew up and in love) or a couple meetings at social events, then the pair is in love. He's more focused on the obstacles to marriage. In a couple instances, the author will simply state that the love is a fait accompli and readers only learn briefly about first meetings and impressions. Unfortunately, this sometimes lessens reader involvement in the relationship. However, in this novel, Trollope writes about Lucy coming to live with her brother, meeting the young lord of the estate (he's not too impressed at first), the gradual development of their friendship and the fits and starts to love.
One of my favorite passages -
"He had by no means made up his mind that he loved Lucy Robarts; nor had he made up his mind that, loving her, he would, or that, loving her, he would not, make her his wife. He had never used his mind in the matter in any way, either for good or evil. He had learned to like her and to think that she was very pretty. He had found out that it was very pleasant to talk to her; whereas, talking to Griselda Grantly, and, indeed, to some other young ladies of his acquaintance, was often hard work. The half-hours which he had spent with Lucy had always been satisfactory to him. He had found himself to be more bright with her than with other people, and more apt to discuss subjects worth discussing; and thus it had come about that he thoroughly liked Lucy Robarts."
They meet resistance from his formidable mother, Lady Lufton. Although she's the main obstacle to marriage and happiness, Trollope doesn't make her one dimensional. She's generous, caring, loves her children and is always good-intentioned though she sometimes finds it hard to overcome her prejudices. She certainly tries to be just to her son and Lucy and imagines that she really has both of their welfare in mind. However, her main fault - and often her most prominent characteristic - is the need to, well, control everything (as is made clear in the wonderful last line of the novel).
Lord Lufton and Lucy also have their faults, Lucy being too irreverent and perverse for the model Victorian wife, as well as not beautiful enough for Lady Lufton's ideal daughter in law. Lord Lufton can't be the ideal hero, either - he considers marrying another woman while Lucy is suffering at home. But Trollope novels always have the happy ending, so it's even more shocking to read something so starkly cynical (if superbly constructed) as this gem -
"I will not say that the happiness of marriage is like the Dead Sea fruit—an apple which, when eaten, turns to bitter ashes in the mouth. Such pretended sarcasm would be very false. Nevertheless, is it not the fact that the sweetest morsel of love's feast has been eaten, that the freshest, fairest blush of the flower has been snatched and has passed away, when the ceremony at the altar has been performed, and legal possession has been given? There is an aroma of love, an undefinable delicacy of flavour, which escapes and is gone before the church portal is left, vanishing with the maiden name, and incompatible with the solid comfort appertaining to the rank of wife. To love one's own spouse, and to be loved by her, is the ordinary lot of man, and is a duty exacted under penalties. But to be allowed to love youth and beauty that is not one's own—to know that one is loved by a soft being who still hangs cowering from the eye of the world as though her love were all but illicit—can it be that a man is made happy when a state of anticipation such as this is brought to a close? No; when the husband walks back from the altar, he has already swallowed the choicest dainties of his banquet. The beef and pudding of married life are then in store for him;—or perhaps only the bread and cheese. Let him take care lest hardly a crust remain—or perhaps not a crust."
Standing against Mark as a foil to his weakness is his sister Lucy, who is so firmly committed to doing the right thing she will even sacrifice her own happiness to hold her head up before the world. It would be easy to write a paragon so perfect she is not human, but Trollope is far too wise for that. Lucy is one of his more vivid heroines, with a lively wit and a playful habit of making such fun of her most heartfelt confidences that her sister-in-law Fanny is sometimes at a loss to know when she is serious. She reminds me of Elizabeth Bennett quite a bit. I do love the scene where "insignificant" little 5'2" Lucy dominates Lady Lufton!
But though the story is centered on the people of Framley, Trollope kindly allows us to visit with friends from the previous three books. Mrs. Proudie is back, feuding as ever with Mrs. Grantly. Miss Dunstable also is back, with a surprise for her fans. The Greshams have a cameo, as does Lady Scatcherd, Mr. Harding, and Mr. and Mrs. Arabin.
Trollope—who reads as a mix between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens—has great fun satirizing the politicians of his day. He makes fun of them, to be sure, but his criticisms don't have Dickens' bitter edge and he seems more relaxed and humorous toward people's foibles. An example of this is Mr. Supplehouse, a newspaper writer whose tendency to vacillate should be evident from his name. Some characters hate him for his power, but others (like the redoubtable Miss Dunstable) indulgently say that he means mischief, but that's his function so it isn't something to get upset about.
Trollope certainly has a fascination with lower-class (but very respectable) young women marrying up in the world, with the chief obstacle to their love being the family (or more specifically, the mothers) of the young men. Dr. Thorne, the Barsetshire novel immediately preceding this one, was all about the doctor's niece, Mary Thorne, who couldn't marry into the local nobility because Frank Gresham had to marry money. I wonder if Trollope ever wrote a story with a younger man of less-than-noble antecedents aspiring to the hand of a well-born young lady. Hmm.
Trollope continues to be one of the more personable authors I've ever read, often pausing the narrative to ask the reader what he would do when faced by the situations of the characters, and frankly admitting his own proclivities toward comfort and the ease of unruffled custom.
There was a point about 150 pages in where I almost didn't want to pick this back up... I hate reading about money troubles (especially self-inflicted money troubles) and it was so evident that things would take a bad turn for our young parson. But I persevered, and was rewarded: yes, things get bad for the parsonage, but not unrelievedly so. There are plenty of other characters and side-stories happening alongside these troubles, and I finished the last several hundred pages at a gallop during a long, quiet afternoon. I think Trollope always rewards his readers in the end. Recommended.
The plot itself is rather like a pantechnicon rumbling along very predictable tracks, but that's not what we read Trollope for. We get as many great lines, ironic asides from the narrator, and passages of delightful upper-class indignation as anyone could desire.
Mark Robarts is the recently appointed vicar of Framley, and happily married to Fanny. His future appears secure, but Mark longs after "naughty things" like fox hunting, horses, and parties. His troubles begin when he co-signs a loan for a so-called friend, Nathaniel Sowerby. Unbeknownst to Robarts, Sowerby is deeply in debt and on the run from creditors and bill collectors. Robarts naively believes everything will work out, and fails to tell his wife about the debt he's incurred.
In Framley Parsonage we are also reunited with several other notable characters from the three previous books: Archdeacon Grantly and his family, Dean Arabin and his wife Eleanor, Mrs Proudie the bishop's domineering wife, Doctor Thorne, Frank and Mary Gresham, and the outspoken and very funny heiress Miss Dunstable. I loved seeing these old friends in new settings. I also enjoyed Trollope's wit, as he poked fun at the clergy:
Let those who know clergymen, and like them, and have lived with them, only fancy it! Clergymen to be paid, not according to the temporalities of any living which they may have acquired, either by merit or favour, but in accordance with the work to be done! O Doddington! and O Stanhope, think of this, if an idea so sacrilegious can find entrance into your warm ecclesiastical bosoms! Ecclesiastical work to be bought and paid for according to its quantity and quality!
And at men in general:
"My dear!" said her husband, "it is typhus, and you must first think of the children. I will go." "What on earth could you do, Mark?" said his wife. "Men on such occasions are almost worse than useless; and then they are so much more liable to infection."
But back to Mark Robarts. It wasn't long before his future looked bleak, but this is Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire, where things invariably turn out well in the end. In fact, the last chapter of Framley Parsonage is entitled, "How They Were All Married, Had Two Children, and Lived Happy Ever After". The journey from near ruin to happily ever after is a long, meandering one with several related threads. As Mark is facing financial ruin, his sister Lucy comes to stay, and meets young, unmarried Lord Lufton. They are instantly attracted to one another, but Lady Lufton has strong feelings about her son marrying the vicar's sister. And so begins another long, meandering journey in which Lady Lufton discovers why Lucy is the ideal choice for her son, and learns a few things about herself in the process. Trust me -- that's not a spoiler! Trollope's outcomes are always predictable, but it doesn't matter because getting there is so much fun.
That, I believe, is almost the first thought in the mind of a good wife when her husband returns home. Has he had his dinner? What can I give him for dinner? Will he like my dinner? Oh dear, oh dear! there is nothing in the house but cold mutton.
I like Anthony Trollope's ironic musings on his characters. At first I found this very intrusive to the story, but now four novels into the Barchester Chronicles I have got used to his style of writing. And when he sits back and wonder at his own story and the actions of his character's we can be sure, Trollope will tell us truths about human nature - either praise of a good character - or his rebuke of our folly - how easily we can be manipulated and deceived - or just like this quote gently poke fun at a Mrs. Robarts and her deep affection for her husband.
It's typical of Trollope himself to have a deep affection for all his characters - even the scoundrel Sowerby who keep getting others in debt....
The story itself is perhaps not the best in the series, and it does slow down too much when it strays too far from the central characters - the Luftons and Robards. But there are many memorable characters here to enjoy and the subject matter of money, greed, ambition in life, family, honesty are so well explored.
I liked Lady Lufton the best. Manipulating yes, but she gains our sympathy as the story develops. It's also fun to be introduced to "old" friends from the previous novels in the series.
Framley Parsonage is the best yet of Trollope’s Barsetshire series! At the center of this fourth novel is Reverend Mark Robarts, who, as a young man, was awarded the comfortable Framley living by his friend’s mother, Lady Lufton. Much to his benefactor’s dismay, Mark naively becomes involved in the suspect dealings of notorious gambler, Nathaniel Sowerby; and the results of his actions are near financial ruin. Politics, a constant theme in Trollope’s work, also feature largely in Framley Parsonage. Through political maneuvering and rivalry, seats are gained and lost, alliances forged and betrayed, governments formed and dissolved. Social class distinctions, another Trollope staple, are set aflutter when Lord Lufton falls for Lucy Robarts, Mark’s younger sister. And Doctor Thorne has a delightful surprise! Other known and loved Barchester characters also appear: Archdeacon and Mrs. Grantley, Miss Dunstable, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gresham, and the ever-disagreeable Mrs. Proudie.
Trollope’s much loved trademark humour continues to entertain throughout Framley Parsonage. At a “wild” dance held by Mrs. Harold Smith of Barchester, young Griselda Grantley finds herself the object of attention of both Lords Lufton and Dumbello. The latter takes not kindly to being outdone by his rival, and hilarity ensues:
“Lord Dumbello, in the meantime, stood by observant, thinking to himself that Lord Lufton was a glib-tongued, empty-headed ass, and reflecting that if his rival were to break the tendons in his leg in one of those rapid evolutions, or suddenly come by any other dreadful misfortunes, such as the loss of all his property, absolute blindness, or chronic lumbago, it would only serve him right.” (7/16)
Highly recommended! As for this Blackstone Audiobook, I can’t say enough about the reading genius that is Simon Vance. His recordings of Trollope’s Barsetshire novels have provided hours of delightful entertainment.
Mark and his wife Fanny live at Framley Parsonage, under the patronage of Lady Lufton and her son Ludovic. Mark is pathetically weak and naive, falling prey to Nathaniel Sowerby, an upper class conman, and his own ambitious greed for social advancement. Fanny is a good and brave Victorian wife, who becomes a mediator between her husband and Lady Lufton. Mark's sister Lucy comes to stay with the couple after the death of his father, and Lord Lufton promptly falls in love with her, upsetting his mother's plans to unite him with a society beauty named Griselda. That, plus a forthright character called Miss Dunstable and a lot of political and clerical commentary from the omniscient narrator, is the novel in a nutshell.
I like characters I can believe in, and Trollope's women - Lady Lufton, Lucy and Miss Dunstable - are certainly convincing, full of wit and wisdom (at least compared to the men). However, his Dickensian caricatures, like Lord Omnium of Gatherum Castle and Mrs Proudie, completely undid the drama and emotion of Mark's financial difficulties and Lucy's romantic dilemma. Stick to the point, man! Without all that padding, this would have been a far better, and less tedious, story. More Gaskell, less Dickens, in other words.
So, will I be returning to Barsetshire, or any of Trollope's other epic novels? No, I think my colleague was right - life is too short.
My version was an audiobook with a top-notch reading by Simon Vance who, granted with Trollope's influence, can impart the character's personality with their first words.
Comfortably off, but still considerably below the half way point in this heap is Mark Robarts, who owes his living to the accident of having been placed for his education as a private pupil of a clergyman who was a friend of his father's. This clergyman had only one other pupil, the young Lord Lufton (it is not clear why he should have been there, but there he was). The boys became friends, and when Lady Lufton came to visit she would observe what she felt to be the good influence of Mark upon her son and commented to his father, a gentleman physician of no private means, that she hoped the boys would stay together throughout their education. Dr Robarts duly sent his son to Harrow and then to Oxford. Mark would frequently stay at Framley Court at the invitation of Lady Lufton, who continued to view him with affection as well as expecting him to continue to act for good on her son. On Mark's graduation, Lady Lufton conferred with Dr Robarts, and a decision was made that the Church would be good, and in a surprisingly short time Mark Robarts, still in his early twenties, became Vicar of Framley, the living of Framley being in the gift of Lady Lufton. Continuing her gentle but inexorable arranging of everything for the best, Lady Lufton, believing that a parson should have a wife, put in Mark's path a woman she felt would be suitable, a friend of her married daughter's, and, without either knowing their roles had been cast, the two fell in love and married.
It will be seen from this that Robarts and his wife, though not entirely Lady Lufton's creatures, had attained their good fortune through her; they were aware of it, and thankful to her for it, and Lady Lufton for her part, though kind and genuinely fond of both Mark and his wife, would subtly ensure that that awareness remained. Robarts was not given the Framley living simply out of affection, or even to keep him near as a brake on her son, but also because Lady Lufton had very particular views on church matters and wanted to ensure that the Vicar of Framley would not take a line with which she did not agree.
Temptation has already been set in Robarts' path by his upbringing - a boy and then a young man of no independent means spending much of his time in the company of a young baron and his, and his mother's circle, on the edge of, and familiar with, a life he cannot afford. If Lady Lufton loved Mark as a second son, it is not surprising that Mark should occasionally feel a son's rebelliousness at her rule.
Lady Lufton is particularly opposed to the Duke of Omnium and his followers, not only for their politics, but for their fast ways. The Duke is seen as a corrupter, and all within his circle tainted. One of that circle is Tom Sowerby, MP. "Mr Sowerby was one of those men who are known to be very poor - as poor as debt can make a man, but who, nevertheless, enjoy all the luxuries which money can give. It was believed that he could not live in England out of jail but for his protection as a member of Parliament, and yet it seemed that there was no end to his horses and carriages, his servants and retinue. He had been at this work for a great many years, and practice, they say makes perfect. Such companions are very dangerous. There is no cholera, no yellow fever, no small-pox, more contagious than debt. If one lives habitually among embarrassed men, one catches it to a certainty. No one had injured the community in this way more fatally than Mr Sowerby. But still he carried on the game himself; and now on this morning, carriages and horses thronged at his gate, as though he were as substantially rich as his friend the Duke of Omnium."
Mark is aware that Lord Lufton has mixed with Sowerby and run up considerable debts through his influence. Mark is invited to Chaldicotes, Sowerby's home, for a weekend, convinces himself that it would be a good thing to go,particularly as he knows that some more elevated clerics will be there, and that it is time he stopped following Lady Lufton's wishes in everything, even if his living is in her hands. His courage falls short of facing his patroness however, and he tells his wife to break the news of his absence. During the weekend Mark is told that the Duke of Omnium expects him to join the party at Gartherum Castle. Despite knowing how great a transgression this would be in the eyes of Lady Lufton, Mark writes home, asking his wife to send him some money and to once again break the news to Lady Lufton. Thus set up the naive vicar is an easy target for Sowerby, who asks him to sign a note to cover a debt. At this point the whole novel seemed to be too deterministically taking Mark Robarts down the road to ruin to make the book seem worth reading. The very splendid Miss Dunstable, a clever independently minded heiress introduced in Dr Thorne, appears, though there is not enough of her. There is a love story, which kept this going for me, though I read that Trollope said there was a love story only because there had to be one, and there is an awful lot of space given over to clumsy and tedious (though perhaps thought witty at the time) commentary on Parliamentary politics - elections, reversals of fortunes, and changes of government, with matters being referred to as battle between the gods and the giants, references to changes in social habits and attitudes of the time (the new fashion for dining a la russe, opinions on clergy riding to hounds, etc.) and a lot of stuff about how signing promissory notes can get one in big trouble.
Ultimately, I just wanted to get to the end of this book. I am surprised it was his first commercial success, as I enjoyed the earlier ones better, but perhaps it fitted better into its time. Also, I read that Trollope was writing this at the same time as another, gloomier novel, that it was being published in instalments and that as they were to be of a set length some instalments suffered from padding, which led to some peculiarities. (I read the Penguin Classics version, which reprints the work as it originally appeared in the Cornhill Magazine.)
Once again money, or the lack of it, is a problem for a Barsetshire man. This time it's Mark Robarts, vicar of Framley, who gets into financial trouble in a moment of weakness. He learns his lesson, but is it too late to save his family from embarrassment and ruin? Mark's sister, Lucy Robarts, has trouble of her own when she falls in love with Mark's friend, Lord Lufton, whose mother has another match in mind for him.
Some of my favorite Barsetshire residents reappear in this story – the Proudies, the Grantlys, Dr. Thorne, and my current favorite, Miss Dunstable. The book has the feel of a soap opera, cutting from scene to scene between three or four story lines. Trollope's novels seem fresh to this 21st century reader probably because they focus more on character and behavior rather than on customs and culture. Human nature hasn't changed much since the mid-19th century. I wouldn't recommend reading Framley Parsonage without reading the preceding Barsetshire novels. Half the fun of reading these novels is waiting for old friends and acquaintances to make their appearance. I look forward to seeing who shows up in the next one!
I find that when the real world is difficult, I can bury my head in the sand with Victorian classics. They almost all have happy endings and the even the worst characters major offense might be to behave boorishly. Definitely light and fun. Narrated by my favorite, Simon Vance.
There are two main plots in the book; the first revolves around the young impetuous clergyman, Mark Robarts and a shady financial decision. He guarantees a bill for an untrustworthy man, which puts his own future in jeopardy. The second plot regards his sister Lucy and the wealthy Lord Lufton who falls for her. Lufton’s mother is opposed to the marriage and Lucy feels that to accept the Lord without his mother’s approval would be wrong.
The strength of the novel lies in its characters’ sincere struggles. We feel for Lucy as she wrestles with her feelings. Our hearts break for Mark Robarts even though we know he made a stupid mistake. Trollope has built a fascinating world within the Barsetshire society and now four books into the series we recognize characters and remember their stories from previous books.
**A few of my favorite SPOILERY scenes:
When Fanny Robarts finds out about her husband’s financial ruin she is beyond kind and patient. She makes it clear to him that no matter what happens, she is on his side. He already feels ashamed and sick for what he’s done and nothing she could have said would have made him regret his actions more. Choosing to show him love and forgiveness in that situation was such a demonstration of strength and compassion.
I was absolutely giddy over Doctor Thorne’s sweet romance with Martha Dunstable. They were not young, but with the help of his niece they both realized how happy they would be together. His honest-to-a-fault love letter was too funny. It’s never too late to find love.
BOTTOM LINE: I so enjoyed this one, but I will say I couldn’t help comparing it to “Tooth and Claw” throughout the book. Both are great, but adding dragons to the mix adds a special layer of fun. I love that this novel has more depth and a few additional side plots that the retelling skipped. Mark Robarts character was particularly good, since in “Tooth and Claw” he becomes a straightforward villain. After Doctor Thorne I think this is my favorite of the series so far.
While I enjoyed this novel, I need a Trollope break before going on to the final installment. I feel a bit overloaded with snobbish mothers who come between their sons and the worthy but common young women they love, male golddiggers trolling for wives, and cads who bring their friends to financial ruin.
I appreciate the exquisite prose, and the story about the countryside of England during the early Victorian era. I was left wishing I could read everything Trollope ever wrote.
Trollope explores human emotions such as humiliation (Robarts not being able to afford to give a loan but does it anyway), romance (between Mark's sister, Lucy, and Lord Lufton), greed (inappropriate relationships because of lower class status) and affection (bailing a friend out of a sticky situation). The subplot of Lucy and Lord Lufton is my favorite. Lady Lufton doesn't think Lucy is good enough for her son (what mother does?).
Trollope seems to make his women almost all admirable in some way, but his male characters are weaker. I found Mark's stupidity almost criminal and I do not understand why he did not agree with Mr Forrest at the bank to pay the debt back over two years, rather than allowing the whole area to learn of his plight and ending up borrowing from his friend.