In Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, the title character is a country doctor in a little English village. He had never married, but he had taken in his niece, Mary, when she was a child. She was the offspring of his ne’er-do-well brother and a girl in the village. His brother had been killed by the brother of the girl he seduced, and that girl, Mary’s mother, moved to America. Because Mary was with a caretaker and then away at school, by the time she came to Doctor Thorne’s home, no one made the connection between her and Thorne’s brother.
The leading family in the area were the Greshams of Greshamsbury. The squire and the doctor were good friends. Lady Gresham had come from a more highborn family and thus had lofty ideas of rank, birth, and privilege. Against her better judgment, she allowed Mary Thorne to come to her home to be taught with and to play with her daughters. Lady Gresham did not know Mary’s birth status, but even the niece of a country doctor was not the sort of person she would have preferred her children to be close to. But Mary was a good girl, and the squire in particular loved having her.
The Greshams had one son, Frank. By the time Frank came of age, his father’s debts had greatly reduced the estate. The only hope for the family’s financial survival was for Frank to marry money. But—Frank had fallen in love with Mary. He claimed he didn’t need the estate; he would learn a profession. His parents, his mother in particular, chalked his attitude up to immaturity and schemed to keep him and Mary apart.
Meanwhile, Roger Scatcherd, Mary’s unknown uncle who had killed her father, had served time for manslaughter. When he was released from prison, his skill and knowledge with railroads made him a lot of money. He eventually became a baronet. But now he was stuck between two classes. The lower classes with whom he would have formerly associated now saw him as above them. But the high society looked down on him as below them, even though he had more money than most of them. His besetting sin was drinking alcohol, which ruined his heath. Unfortunately, his son was following in his father’s footsteps.
Other subplots include Frank’s sisters’ romantic encounters, an election between Scatcherd and Frank’s sister’s beau, a wealthy and unconventional American girl who comes to visit, and an ongoing feud between Dr. Thorne and the elite doctors in nearby Barchester.
This book is the third in Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series. I haven’t read the other books in the series, or anything else by Trollope. I became aware of this story while looking for something to watch while riding my exercise bike. I discovered a series on Amazon Prime developed by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame. I enjoyed the series so much, I soon sought out the audiobook.
In Fellowes’ series, he introduces and closes each installment in a cozy wing chair by a fireplace. Trollope’s narration seemed to me to be in a similar style, as if he were sitting across from the reader while telling this story. I don’t know if that image was in my mind because of the series, or if Fellowes felt the same way about Trollope’s writing.
I love the way Trollope addresses the reader throughout the story.
As Dr Thorne is our hero—or I should rather say my hero, a privilege of selecting for themselves in this respect being left to all my readers—and as Miss Mary Thorne is to be our heroine, a point on which no choice whatsoever is left to any one, it is necessary that they shall be introduced and explained and described in a proper, formal manner. I quite feel that an apology is due for beginning a novel with two long dull chapters full of description. I am perfectly aware of the danger of such a course. In so doing I sin against the golden rule which requires us all to put our best foot foremost, the wisdom of which is fully recognised by novelists, myself among the number. It can hardly be expected that any one will consent to go through with a fiction that offers so little of allurement in its first pages; but twist it as I will I cannot do otherwise. I find that I cannot make poor Mr Gresham hem and haw and turn himself uneasily in his arm-chair in a natural manner till I have said why he is uneasy. I cannot bring in my doctor speaking his mind freely among the bigwigs till I have explained that it is in accordance with his usual character to do so. This is unartistic on my part, and shows want of imagination as well as want of skill. Whether or not I can atone for these faults by straightforward, simple, plain story-telling—that, indeed, is very doubtful.
Another favorite line:
What had he not done for her, that uncle of hers, who had been more loving to her than any father! How was he, too, to be paid? Paid, indeed! Love can only be paid in its own coin: it knows of no other legal tender.
As I watched the series, I felt it had elements of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. The TV series was fairly predictable, but still enjoyable. The book, of course, is much more nuanced.
My only complaint is that there seemed to be a good bit of repetition: some of the same points of conversation seemed to come up several times, sometimes with the same people.
But overall, I loved the book and want to read the rest of the Chronicles of Barsetshire.
I listened to the audiobook superbly narrated by David Shaw-Parker.
Here’s a trailer for the TV series:
Have you read anything by Trollope? What did you think?