Framley Parsonage I

Framley Parsonage is the fourth in Trollope's series of novels set in his fictional "Barsetshire," located in Southwestern England.  The "series" is very loosely organized, and it is possible to read most of the individual books  on their own.  The exceptions are, perhaps, Barchester Towers and The Last Chronicle.   FP comes between Doctor Thorne and The Small House at Allington--a book I regard as one of Trollope's best.  In FP we do again meet the odious Proudies--the Bishop and Mrs. Bishop of Barchester, but, surprisingly, the author anticipates his series of political novels, The Palisers, by introducing the Duke of Omnium at Gatherum Castle.  ]

This novel chronicles the fortunes of the Rev. Mark Robarts.  Now,Trollope is above all a novelist interested in character, and near the very beginning he shares his philosophy of character (such as we shall see again in his Autobiography)  in his characterization of the hero.

But little has as yet been said, personally, as to our hero himself, and perhaps it may not be necessary to say much. Let us hope that by degrees he may come forth upon the canvas, showing to the beholder the nature of the man inwardly and outwardly. Here it may suffice to say that he was no born heaven's cherub, neither was he a born fallen devil's spirit. Such as his training made him, such he was. He had large capabilities for good—and aptitudes also for evil, quite enough: quite enough to make it needful that he should repel temptation as temptation only can be repelled. Much had been done to spoil him, but in the ordinary acceptation of the word he was not spoiled. He had too much tact, too much common sense, to believe himself to be the paragon which his mother thought him. Self-conceit was not, perhaps, his greatest danger. Had he possessed more of it, he might have been a less agreeable man, but his course before him might on that account have been the safer.

Our hero Mark Robarts, then,m is neither devil nor angel, with aptitudes for good and evil.  The spectacular insight, given go early in the novel, is that if he had been more conceited, that is, thought too highly of himself, he might have been better able to resist temptation, when it came his way.

The cast of characters in the early chapters does not include many models of perfection.   Robarts' wife is too wise not to see through his pretensions and too loyal to fail in supporting him.  Lady Lufton is a bigoted Tory with a heart of gold, while Sowerby is a solid Whig of a rotten character.  I have always found it interesting that while Trollope was himself a solid Whig, he is if anything more ruthless in his portrayal of the Whigs and their failings, while (after The Warden) even Archdeacon Grantly, ultra-Tory that he is, is portrayed with zest and affection.

I'll pause here and assume that this week readers will get through at least half a dozen chapters.  I await your comments.


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

3 Responses

  1. Harry Colin says:

    Trollope is a master at realistic portraits of his characters and largely sustained that throughout his novels; for a man who cranked out3,000 words every morning, that is an accomplishment.

    His fairness to Tories is really evident in his allowing Lady Lofton to display her willingness to credit Mrs. Robards for standing by her husband, even though the esteemed lady was furious at Mark for his actions. As she considers the Duke of Omnium as the agent of Satan, she is quite capable of bitter opprobrium, and not everyone could be so judicious in her displays of anger toward the vicar without lumping his wife with him. I think Trollope paints Robards as a sympathetic figure, even though many people would consider him an ingrate toward Lady Lofton and a dimwit for guaranteeing the loan in the first place.

    I enjoyed Trollope’s description of the church as “mean and ugly” but that all the churches built at that time were meant to be mean and ugly. Is that displaying a rather high church affinity of his or a commentary on Anglican architecture generally? If memory serves Trollope was very fond of this novel in his autobiography and the success of the novel elevated him in the minds of both publishers and critics.

    The first Trollope I ever read was Barchester Towers in college and this one triggers fond memories for me.

  2. Harry Colin says:

    I’ll go out on the limb and say that based on this thread, enthusiasm for this Trollopian tale was a bit underwhelming for many of my fellow Flemingites here, but I enjoyed it.

    Overall, it was more like being an observer of a series of town and family gatherings with all the usual adventures in life. While even less plot-driven than most of his stories, Trollope does allow us to see a good resolution to the proximate problem when the Lord buys the notes and saves the day. (if I am ruining the ending for anyone still working through it – mea maxima culpa!)

    I did find the Lord Dumbello character more Dickens-like, both in name and behavior, but perhaps I just can’t get past the name. Even with that, Trollope astonishes by keeping his many characters multi-dimensional despite cranking out so many words each morning!

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    The variety is astonishing. I am going to start a new thread, part II, on the front page, and will respond shortly at greatly length there, after transferring your observations.