Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML: Well loved by readers in the Victorian era and today, Anthony Trollope's series of novels known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire have delighted and engaged audiences for over 150 years. Doctor Thorne is the third novel in the collection. Although the primary plot follows the romantic ups and downs of a country doctor, the novel also tackles tough social issues of the day, include the problem of illegitimacy and the difficult lives of children born out of wedlock during the period..
The story deals with many themes, including the social stigma of illegitimacy, the pressing need of good families to marry money, the horrible effects of alcohol addiction, the corrupt election process, and what integrity really looks like. Trollope's careful pen draws the eye to every human foible without being merciless in this gently humorous tale.
The story and characters reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. Molly and Mary are very similar; both have as a father-figure the local country doctor, both fall in love with a young man of higher rank, and both are persecuted in their social circles for a perceived indiscretion. Doctor Gibson and Doctor Thorne are also similar—reserved, prideful, principled, fiercely protective, and Scottish!
My favorite character is probably Miss Dunstable, an heiress who has no illusions about her money and the fawning hangers-on it purchases. She is thrown together with Frank in order that he may marry money and save the family honor, but they soon come to a right understanding. She becomes Mary's champion, urging Frank to remain faithful to her no matter what his family says. She's that great.
Trollope is just as comfortable with female characters as male; his portraits of Lady Arabella and the relationships among the female de Courcy cousins are spot-on, with that dash of satire to give the whole thing spice (like when Augusta Gresham's haughty cousin advises her against marrying a lowly lawyer... and eventually marries the selfsame man herself!).
Some may find Trollope's narrative voice intrusive, but I for one enjoy being told that things will turn out all right. But though he does tell us some things ahead of time, other things he keeps secret till the very end. It's just enough suspense to keep me reading madly.
Once again, Trollope delivers. I'm thankful to have discovered his work.
Poor Mary (you’ll repeat that a couple hundred times during the course of the narrative), born of questionable parentage but brought up lovingly by her uncle the eponymous doctor, is in love with the upper class heir to the Greshamsbury estate, Frank Gresham. And Frank is in love with her even if she is penniless. But Frank’s father is in deep debt and Frank has to “marry money,” otherwise how will he keep the wolf from the door and who will save Greshamsbury? After all, his sister is willing to forego a marriage based on love and, instead, “marry money”, and no less is expected from Frank. Really, much more is expected from him. But he is insisting on Mary and no one else. So you know without any further ado, that something (or someone) is going to intervene to make this storybook romance come true. And before long you know exactly how it will come about. And you know all this with at least half of the 600 page book left to read. The rest of the book is spent twisting and turning its way to the ultimate conclusion.
Mary sums up the main theme of the book this way:
”She said to herself, proudly, that God's handiwork was the inner man, the inner woman, the naked creature animated by a living soul; that all other adjuncts were but man's clothing for the creature; all others, whether stitched by tailors or contrived by kings. Was it not within her capacity to do as nobly, to love as truly, to worship her God in heaven with as perfect a faith, and her god on earth with as leal a troth, as though blood had descended to her purely through scores of purely born progenitors?” (Page 133)
Ahhh lovely sentiments and true of course. Mary is certainly good enough for Frank and marrying for money seldom works out well. The problem is that at this time in England, it was pretty much impossible for someone with Mary’s sketchy background to marry someone of Frank’s long family heritage. Unless……well, an enormous fortune might make a difference. But I’m not going to spoil it for you. I’ll let Mr. Trollope do that and you won’t even mind. Highly recommended.
The author unreservedly condemns mercenary marriages - it's just another form of selling yourself. Lady Arabella Gresham supports them and the de Courcy girls contemplate how much, exactly, they would have to sell themselves for. Mary Thorne, the admirable heroine, says she'd never marry for money and does prove herself by turning down an offer from a rich but boorish man she doesn't love. Augusta Gresham's engagement of money-meets-nobility turns sour. Miss Dunstable, a wealthy heiress with no name, is portrayed as practical and caring when she turns down numerous mercenary proposals and encourages Frank to stay loyal to Mary.
However, the novel does display some class ambivalence. Mary remarks that if she were situated like the Greshams, she would never marry below her class for money. Whether she would do it for love remains unanswered - Trollope sidesteps the question of whether the match between Frank and a penniless Mary would be laudable. Sir Roger Scatchard's class switch, resulting from his new money, also seems to warn against transgressing class boundaries. Although Roger is intelligent and industrious, he retains his vulgar habits and alcoholism from former days. Dr. Thorne is his only friend - he admits he's no longer comfortable amongst workers of his former class but can't mix with the educated gentry. His son, Sir Louis, is much worse.
The novel runs a bit long, but still very good.
Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire are a source of delight for me, and Dr. Thorne more than lived up to my expectations. True to form, Trollope delights with manors and manners, money and the lack of it, highborns and illegitimates, romance and
At its heart, Dr. Thorne is a character story. To a fault, the characters are round and relatable: the doctor, compassionate, sensible, and loyal; Mary Thorne, mannered, independent, and indignant; Lady Arabella Gresham, highborn, insufferable, and broke; Frank Gresham, noble, honest, and also near broke; Sir Roger Scatcherd, obscenely wealthy, ruthless, and hopelessly alcoholic.
The novel is wonderfully written and perfectly read by Simon Vance in this Blackstone Audiobook. Trollope’s humour, wit, and gentle social sarcasm make for delightful entertainment. Highly recommended!
There are similarities between Mary Thorne's situation and Harriet Smith's situation in Emma. Emma ignored Harriet's lack of family connection and wealth and encouraged Harriet to aspire to marry above her station, almost ensuring that Harriet wouldn't marry at all. Doctor Thorne was less impulsive than Emma, but no less at fault. Harriet was of marriageable age when Emma took her on as a matchmaking project. Mary was still a child when she came to live with her uncle. He failed to think about what would happen when Mary reached adulthood.
This was a tiny bit of a letdown after Barchester Towers. I missed the church politics and all of the wonderfully flawed characters in the ranks of the clergy. The de Courcy women, including Lady Arabella Gresham, could learn a thing or two from Mrs. Proudie. Still, it's Trollope so it's entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Even the names of the characters can bring a smile to your face – Miss Gushing, Dr. Fillgrave, Mr. Reddypalm, Mr. Nearthewinde. Readers who enjoy Victorian historical fiction should give Trollope a try.
Mary Thorne, illegitimate niece of the book’s hero (on which point every reasonable reader will agree with the author) Dr. Thorne, loves and is loved by the son of the local squire, whose fortune and living have dwindled to the point where a judicious marriage for young Frank Gresham is the only hope for the family’s security and good standing. Dr. Thorne himself, while not rich, is placed in the problematic situation of executing a will that has every bearing on Mary’s romantic plight. This plot, unburdened by any disagreeable suspense, and further lightened by Trollope’s drollery (and some shameless author intrusion), kept me entertained but left me a little embarrassed at not having to work any harder for it.
Even if it is quite apparent from the beginning how it will end, the story is very interesting. I may be repeating myself, but Trollope shows great insight in human nature.
In this novel Doctor Thorne’s brother leaves his
Scatcherd is Mary’s uncle on the other side of her family (her mother’s brother). He starts off as a lowly stonemason, but rises to power as he becomes wealthy. As the Greshams sink farther and farther into debt, Scatcherd’s control of their property increases. Upon his death he plans to leave his vast wealth and the Gresham’s home to his son, but if his degenerate son passes away everything will go to his next closet relative, who happens to be Mary.
As a novel progressed I began to realize that it was an interesting combination of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Persuasion,” and “Great Expectations.” Mary and Frank’s relationship mirrors the first. Frank’s entire family reminded me of Darcy and Bingley’s extended clan. Even though they all love Mary, they discourage the match because she isn’t a suitable wife for Frank. There’s also Frank's sister who turns down a proposal because her cousin tells her it's unacceptable, which brought “Persuasion” to mind. The tidy full-circle plot which features an orphan reminded me of Dickens. This is not to say that Doctor Thorne is a recreation of any other novel. The book just reminded me of some of my favorites in a very positive way.
Dr. Thorne is such a moral man and he has such strong protective feelings for his niece. Even though he could secure her future by sharing her potential wealth as an heiress, he wants Frank and his family to love her for who she is, regardless of whether she is rich or poor. That’s why this is truly Doctor Thorne’s story and not Frank or Mary’s. Doctor Thorne is trapped in the midst of this impossible situation and every decision he makes is with Mary’s best interest at heart. He is the best kind of man.
BOTTOM LINE: Unlike the previous two books, this one was an unabashed love story. The exploration of social standing and class are so beautifully written you can't help but root for Frank and Mary throughout the book. This has definitely been my absolute favorite of the Barchester books so far.
“There is no road to wealth so easy and respectable as that of matrimony.”
Two things that really irritated me in the story: firstly Thorne's insistence on keeping Mary (an adult) in the dark about her origins, even when he has told Frank and his father the full story. Even in the big revelation scene at the end, Thorne doesn't tell Mary anything about her new situation until he has discussed it with the Greshams and tried to get Frank to be the one to break the news to Mary. If I were Mary, I'd be a bit miffed about this patronising behaviour. Secondly the total lack of interest anyone shows in the situation of Mary's mother. Is she still alive? does Mary have half-brothers and sisters in America? Not even Mary (once she's finally been told that she has a mother) seems to care.
Includes some language that I thought was more modern: people getting “sore” at each other; something being declared as “no go”; and the phrase “more power to you” which was overused in the Philippines in the 1990s.
Read February 2008
Frank's father and sisters are, we are told endlessly, very fond of Mary, but they treat her disgracefully. Mary (and indeed Frank and Dr Thorne too) are a bit lacking in the personality department, although, on the other hand, Lady Arabella and Miss Dunstable were great characters. The story of Augusta, Mr Gazebee and Lady Amelia was a nice touch. I know it was intended to be history repeating itself, but the deaths of Sir Roger and then his son were dealt with at greater length than seemed necessary.
Overall, I was confused about what Trollope was saying about marriage and money and birth. The doctor is described as very proud of his birth and yet he brings Mary up in ignorance of her true circumstances, allows her to run around with the squire's children and to think of herself as a lady. What did he intend for her? If she had not so conveniently become an heiress, should she have married Frank? Should Frank have been told of her parentage before he proposed for the first time? Was he right to say it made no difference (or did he really mean that it was too late?
The plot is straightforward, but that doesn't matter. There are numerous tiny twists and turns wending sinuously through the book, keeping it moving along. The characters are wonderful, and the sub-plots are wonderful. (I was laughing aloud at the account of the Barchester election, the feud between Drs Thorne and Fillgrave, and at the unfortunate Miss Gushing turning Methodist.) The writing is wonderful. In fact, the whole book is wonderful and now I am gushing.
Trollope looks at them, and questions them, quite closely, which makes this a much more thoughtful book than the plot would suggest.
The beginnings of the story of Dr Thorne lie more than twenty years before the period in which the book is set, when Dr Thorne's wilder brother seduces the sister of a stonemason in the town of Barchester, who was on the brink of marriage to a respectable tradesman.
The woman, Mary Scatcherd, becomes pregnant and when her brother Roger discovers the fact he attacks and kills the seducer in a drunken rage, and is imprisoned for manslaughter. When Mary's baby is born she is seemingly destitute, but her previous suitor announces that he will marry her after all, and emigrate to America with her, if she will only leave the baby. So Dr Thorne, very much against the norms of the day, and against his own principles that blood is everything, offers to take the baby and being her up as his legitimate niece.
So in twenty years time Mary Thorne is the acknowledged niece of Dr Thorne, living in the village of Greshambury where her history is unknown, and is halfway to being in love with Frank Gresham, the son of the local squire. But Frank's father has been building up debt after debt on his estate and it is absolutely essential in the eyes of his family, and in the eyes of the world, that Frank should marry money. And even without the debts it is surely impossible that a Gresham of Greshambury should marry a girl who is illegitimate... And meanwhile the outraged brother, of twenty years ago, Roger Scatcherd, has prospered enormously after his release from prison and has built up a very large fortune indeed ...
The plot is a little obvious with this one, but it's enjoyable none the less. I was a little surprised to have the characters from The Warden and Barchester Towers make very fleeting appearances indeed: Dr Thorne could be read as a stand alone book with no difficulty at all.
Having moved westward from Barchester in this third novel in the Chronicles of Barsetshire, Trollope begins the story with a thorough description of Greshamsbury, its history and its inhabitants. Such an experience of being immersed in an unfamiliar setting, meeting its populace, learning about their economic and social situations and their relationships with one another is one of the greatest pleasures I have in reading novels. And Trollope does this “world building” so very well.
It is clear from the novel’s opening chapters that plot and action will be of less significance than character and theme. The story’s main conflict emerges from the love of Frank Gresham, son and heir of the local squire, for Mary Thorne, the portionless niece of the local doctor. In addition to her lack of wealth, Mary is also the child of a rape, and thus unsuited by by “blood,” as well as by financial status, to marry into the Squirearchy. Moreover, Frank’s father, because of poor management of his expenses (especially of his wife’s) has had to sell a favorite portion of his land and to mortgage the rest, so Frank must “marry money” if the property is to remain in Gresham hands. Frank loves his father devotedly and to follow his father’s wishes would mean giving up Mary Thorne. There might have been much suspense in the novel if Trollope, in his role of omniscient narrator, had not in the first chapter assured readers that “I am too old now to be a hard-hearted author and so it is probable that Frank will not die of a broken heart.” Confident in the novel’s happy ending, readers are free to pay attention to character and theme.
Dr. Thorne is filled with characters who caught my interest. Dr. Thorne himself, the novel’s hero, is fascinating and thoroughly sympathetic. He is very good at his profession, a dedicated and sensible physician. He is filled with integrity and is loyal to those he loves. However, there is a little streak of pride and stubbornness in him: though he himself earns his own bread and Mary’s by his profession, he is quite proud of his family connections with the Thornes of Ullathorne, and will not tolerate being patronised. I enjoyed watching the young lovers Mary and Frank mature over the course of the novel, each becoming more worthy of the other. I sympathized with Sir Roger Scatcherd, the extremely wealthy former stone mason, who was miserable in his elevated position. And perhaps my favorite character was Miss Dunstable, the “ointment of Lebanon” heiress, whose hand in marriage Frank is instructed by his mother and aunt to win. Miss Dunstable turns out to be a sensible, good humored, and good hearted woman, and she develops a real fondness for Frank. She is the only one who openly supports his love for Mary. The De Courcy family including Frank’s mother, the Lady Arabella, are treated satirically to show their misplaced priorities. They claim to value “good blood” and family over all else, especially in potential marriage partners, but it is made clear that in their world money and power are the real objects. The interactions between Augusta Gresham and her snooty cousin Lady Amelia de Courcy are entertaining until the true hypocrisy of the De Courcys is revealed: Lady Amelia marries the suitor she had persuaded Augusta to reject.
Two major themes of the novel stood out to me, one being that happiness is not bound up in wealth and position, the other that a person’s value is to be found in character, not in pedigree. I admired Doctor Thorne, Mary, and Frank for their refusal to consider money or lineage as all-important. And those who adhered to those false values, instead of being raised to the status of villains, seemed either laughable or pitiable.
I’d like to spend more time in Barsetshire and so will probably read the last three novels in the Chronicles. I give Doctor Thorne a rating of 4 stars.
2019 reread via LibriVox audiobook:
I enjoyed this 3rd book in the Barsetshire series even more this time around.