Framley Parsonage

I find that the Trollope novels I love the best (at least so far — he wrote nearly fifty novels and many other works as well) take a central theme, like forgiveness or inheritance or family secrets, and approach it from every possible angle. In He Knew He Was Right, for instance, Trollope takes modern marriage and squeezes every drop from it. Characters are married, single, widowed, jilted, divorced, debutantes, engaged, lovers. They approach it from every possible philosophy and point of view. And then, of course, there’s narrator-Trollope, as in every book, and you never know how seriously to take him.

Framley Parsonage is not quite as well-organized as He Knew He Was Right, from this point of view. Still, this story of a young and ambitious priest, Mark Robarts, who has already risen quickly in life and would like to rise farther and faster still, gently juggles the questions of pride, money, and love, and does it better than most.

Mark has the living at Framley Parsonage because the kind and generous Lady Lufton gave it to him. While he is, of course, grateful for this place (he does less work for more money than any other vicar of his age, and the reader can sense the hardworking Trollope’s mocking resentment), it’s easy for a young man to feel that he has deserved whatever was dropped in his lap. Mark hobnobs with the fast-living, fast-spending set of the Duke of Omnium, and in a moment of terrible weakness, trying to look like a man of the world, he backs a bill he can never repay.

In the other major plotline of the novel, Mark’s sister Lucy falls in love with Lady Lufton’s son, and he with her. When Lord Lufton proposes, however, Lucy refuses — going so far as to swear it is impossible she can ever love him — because she knows the match will be repellent to his mother. How can the two come together, when Lucy will never say what she thinks?

It’s easy to characterize these plotlines as 1) money and 2) love, and to watch them wind around each other separately until they come to some kind of an end. But Trollope is more subtle than that. In fact, both stories are about pride. It is Mark’s pride, his insistence that he really owes nothing to Lady Lufton, his refusal to listen to his wife or even to his own conscience, that causes him to take the absurd step of backing not one, but two of the unreliable Sowerby’s bills. And it is Lucy’s pride, her decision that not even her fierce love for Lord Lufton can force her into a match where she is not welcomed as an equal, that causes her to take the absurd step of refusing her lover with a lie.

These two brands of pride are not equal in the reader’s eyes, of course, nor in Trollope’s. Lucy’s pride hurts only two people, and in the end has only beneficial consequences. She wins the respect even of Mr. Crawley, the proud, hard-living clergyman of Hogglestock. Mark, on the other hand, brings his family almost to the bailiffs, and certainly to notoriety and pain.

One of the great joys of the novel is the wonderfully ironic Lucy Robarts. She rarely says what she means, and virtually no one can tell when she is joking and when she is serious. Her fond brother and sister-in-law, Fanny, don’t know her well enough to be able to tell, and go about puzzled:

It was evident enough that [Lucy’s] misery was real; but yet she spoke of herself and her sufferings with so much irony, with so near an approach to joking, that it was very hard to tell how far she was in earnest.

And when Lucy jokes about her own sufferings in love, the reader wishes Lucy had a sister out of Austen, to understand her:

“Lucy, I do not believe that you care for him one jot.  If you were in love you would not speak of it like that.”

“There, there.  That’s my only hope.  If I could laugh at myself till it had become incredible to you, I also, by degrees, should cease to believe that I had cared for him.  But, Fanny, it is very hard.  If I were to starve, and rise before daybreak, and pinch myself, or do some nasty work,– clean the pots and pans and the candlesticks; that I think would do the most good.  I have got a piece of sack-cloth, and I mean to wear that, when I have made it up.”

“You are joking now, Lucy, I know.”

“No, by my word; not in the spirit of what I am saying.”

Lucy is so self-aware, not only of what she feels, but of what others expect her to feel, that she can outline both in the same paragraph. She is an absolute joy.

And so, I ought to say, is the marvelous Miss Dunstable. We met her and her snake-oil fortune in Doctor Thorne, and all I will say is that she is equally wonderful in this book, demonstrating both the evils of such a massive inheritance and the courage a good heart needs to undertake it.

I appreciate these chronicles more and more as I go through them. Two more, and then — on to the Pallisers!

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15 Responses to Framley Parsonage

  1. Lisa says:

    I enjoyed this book the first time I read it, but reading it made me realize how much I had missed the first time around, and moved it much higher up my Trollope list. I love your comment that Lucy needs a sister out of Austen! It would have to be Elizabeth Bennet, I think, to keep up with her.

    • Jenny says:

      Two sisters like Lucy and Elizabeth in the same family would be almost too much! I feel that Lucy needs an understanding Jane, or maybe even an Anne (who doesn’t really have a sisterly relationship she can count on.) But I agree that Lucy-Elizabeth sparks would be great fun to read.

  2. Tony says:

    A wonderful book (much better than ‘Doctor Thorne’ – though I know that you and your readers have different views on that!). Of course, one of the strengths of this book is the introduction of Josiah Crawley – who will become very important in a couple of books’ time…

    • Jenny says:

      I’m so pleased to hear that we get to see more of Mr. Crawley. And he is another example of the book-long examination of pride: too proud to see his old friend Mr. Arabin, because he’s become rich in the interim, for instance, and almost too proud to take help for his sick wife, yet spiritually very humble.

  3. I started reading this back in the spring, right after I finished Doctor Thorne, and adored the beginning but convinced myself that to be a good blogger I would write my review of Doctor Thorne before getting any further into Framley Parsonage. That was in April. No review has been written. This is still sitting on my shelf tempting me and I know that come Christmas, whether the DT review is written or not, I’ll be curling up with this and having a wonderful time.

    • Jenny says:

      I know the feeling! But let it tempt you — I read Doctor Thorne in July and only got to Framley Parsonage in November, but it seemed quite fresh in my mind. The characters who reappeared were like old friends.

  4. It’s easy to characterize these plotlines as 1) money and 2) love

    Well, I don’t know. It wasn’t that easy. I had to work hard on the posts where I did that.

    Ironic Lucy is an amazing creation. Chapter 26 is a masterpiece.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, well, your posts are so much more thorough and interesting than mine in every way that calling them “easy” is merely shorthand for “fluid and thoughtful.”

      I can’t think of any other examples in Trollope (yet) who are admired for not saying precisely what they mean. It’s an interesting mechanism.

  5. vanbraman says:

    I had not read any Trollope until the last couple of years. I read Rachel Ray and really enjoyed it. I have since read The Way We Live Now and Can You Forgiver Her? I also read Phineas Finn and the first half of The Eustace Diamonds. I have decided that Trollope is my travel author. I want to be like Sir Alec Guinness. I save the Trollope books for travel and that is why I am in the middle of The Eustace Diamonds. It is ready for the next trip :-) along with the next Palliser.

    • Jenny says:

      I think the ones you’ve read are all ones I haven’t read, except The Eustace Diamonds. I am so much looking forward to my future Trollopian adventures! I like the idea of using him as a travel author.

  6. Juxtabook says:

    I’ve only read a couple of Trollope’s books so far, The Warden and Barchester Towers. It is shame but stupidly allowed myself to be put off them in my teens because they were reputedly favourites of our then prime minister, the dithering John Major. I’ve re-read both recently and seen more of what I am missing, and your journey with hist work is galvanizing me onwards!

    • Jenny says:

      I’m so pleased you are enjoying his work more this time around. I was put off early on, too, by my mother (of all people — she loves 19th-century novels) telling me that Trollope was “slow.” Good thing I tried him for myself!

  7. Colleen says:

    I’ve been making my way through the Chronicles of Barset as well, and sadly have only one left! I loved Framley Parsonage for the same reasons you did.

    How do you think Lady Lufton’s struggle with her own family and class pride infuse Mark’s and Lucy’s struggles? I wonder if her realigning hers into more human lines is the result of Mark’s and Lucy’s adventures, or the cause? Or something else altogether?

    • Jenny says:

      What a wonderful question, and of course that is part of the book-long examination of pride as well. (And so is Sowerby’s pride in not wanting to accept money from Miss Dunstable after she won’t marry him — and so on.) I think Lady Lufton realigns her values partly because she is a genuinely good and generous person, and partly because she truly loves her son. Pride is abolished by love, and makes Lucy’s love possible. It’s really quite lovely, and a nice little narrative trick as well.

  8. rebeccareid says:

    I’ve read three Pallisers. I really should try to get another one in soon. It’s been more than a year. You’ve gotten me excited about the other series, and HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT, etc!

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