1). So far, and probably during the whole series, the "Barsetshire Chronicles" have revolved around very concrete moral dilemmas. Although concrete, however, these dilemmas are very far from clear-cut or easily soluble. Reverend Harding debates between fighting for his position or acknowledging that the clergy has some (probably excessive) perks. Clearly, he has done his job well, so there is no fault on his part that ethically forces him to resign: he is the victim of a larger, social and political debate, about the clergy's position in society. Here, Dr. Thorne debates between easing his niece's marriage and letting her be a pawn in a financial game. This game is repugnant to Dr. Thorne on account of his egalitarian and democratic convictions. A moral dilemma is a great center around which to develop a story.
2). Trollope, though no radical or socialist (and in fact he was an officer of the British Crown, in the postal service), has an acute gaze to put on Britain's society. For him, far from the "shopkeepers' nation", England is still very much a feudal society, tied by obsolete notions of "blood". However, the Industrial Revolution has turned the tables in favor of rich plebeians and against idle landed gentry. Hence the hypocrisy of the De Courcys, always paying lip service to nobility but actually looking for rich commoners to marry and make them sustain their lavish lifestyle. So, and going to your comparison with Dickens, if Trollope refrains from going into the sordidness of urban slums or child labor, he is not blind to England's shortcomings as a free society.
3). Trollope does a great job of explaining England's politics at the time, between Conservatives, Whigs (both pro and anti-Crown), and Radicals, with all their contradictions: liberal aristocrats, like the Duke, and conservative democrats, such as Dr. Thorne himself. Electioneering, electoral cheating and post-electoral conflict, as well as the depiction of professional elections strategists, were fascinating to me.
4). Alcoholism is portrayed and analyzed in agonizing and truthful detail. As the son of a man who died from alcoholism, for me it was at the same time painful and endearing to read these parts.
5) Now, about literary style: I also enjoy Trollope's way of building the story along with the reader making it, as it were, a live novel developing before the reader's very eyes. Trollope talks about his editors and critics and addresses them, reflecting on the dilemmas of the creative process.
6) Characters: totally agree with you that Miss Dunstable was a discovery. She deserved an older, mature, intelligent husband, but sadly she is only too conscious that she is another pawn in a greedy, financial game. It ennobles her that she refuses to play the game. A witty, warm, and independent woman. Hopefully she will remain Frank and Mary's lifelong friend and adviser. Dr. Thorne, by not being perfect, is the more admirable. Ethical integrity, in his circumstances, requires almost heroism, and he proves himself equal to the challenge. Scatcherd is a wonder of a rough, more perverse, Falstaff of the Industrial Revolution.
6). Having said this, I must add that the really challenging novel would have been one in which Mary does NOT become a heir: what would have happened to her, Frank, the Greshams, and Dr. Thorne if Louis Sctacherd had lived? Would the romantic couple have been able to survive together in the midst of family rejection, social scandal and poverty? This, of course, would have been a more modern novel, or one written By Hugo or Zola, writers shattered and molded by the French Revolution, and not a Victorian, Trollope novel. As it is, it is a very enjoyable reading, deservedly within the classics.
: Okay, well here's some first thoughts.
: 1) I'm told that Trollope is not the author
: to go to for plots. He invents characters,
: sets up a situation, and then sees how it
: will play out. The Warden has a very
: intriguing premise in that the morality of
: the situation is very nuanced. Barchester
: Towers is also relatively complex. Doctor
: Thorne, by contrast, is a rather stock
: melodrama involving wills, illegitimacy,
: thwarted true love, etc. Much of the charm
: of the novel is in the contrast between the
: very "real," well-drawn,
: convincing characters and the creaky plot.
: 2.) Trollope is very funny. He actually
: succeeded in making me laugh out loud, which
: is very rare for me when reading.
: 3.) Slope is an actual villain in Barchester
: Towers. One of the charms of Doctor Thorne
: is that there are no villains. Not really.
: Lady Arabella, for instance, is genuinely
: trying to look out for the well being of her
: 4.) I continue to be charmed by Trollope's
: direct address to the reader. I've come to
: think of him as second only to Fielding in
: creating a charming narrative persona for
: himself. Perhaps it's because direct
: address by the author to the reader is so
: rare, especially post-18th century.
: 5.) I wish that more of the characters from
: the first two novels had appeared more
: prominently in Doctor Thorne, but I
: understand that he needed to broaden his
: world a bit. I'm sure that some of the
: characters introduced in DT will appear in
: later novels in the sequence.
: 6.) There was no character quite as
: memorable as the Signora Neroni, but Miss
: Dunstable comes close. A very unexpected
: and charming character.
: 7.) It is commonplace to compare Trollope to
: Dickens. In most ways, Dickens is an easy
: winner. He is a much stronger stylist and
: generally a deeper artist. Trollope,
: though, is the clear winner in the
: characterization of women. Or rather, young
: women. Dickens created a huge gallery of
: memorable older ladies, but his young women
: are unconvincing. Esther Summerson is
: sympathetic, but too good to be true. Mary
: Thorne (or Eleanor Harding Bold Arabin) is a
: very convincing person with strengths and
: weaknesses. They are fully the equal as
: three-dimensional characters of the men in
: the novel, a trick that Dickens rarely, if
: ever, managed.
: --Previous Message--
: Well, as soon as you're ready, fire! I will
: answer with my thoughts later. I also
: enjoyed it a lot.
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