Doctor Thorne, Barchester #3 by Anthony Trollope

Doctor Thorne - Anthony Trollope, Simon Dentith

Dr. Thorne is a distant cousin to the Thornes of Ullathorne, minor characters in 'Barchester Towers', who moved to Greshamsbury years before after his bristling pride and steadfast devotion to his dissipated, and now dead, brother burned all of his bridges in Barchester proper. He has a small practice and gives all of his affection to his young niece, Mary. His friendship with the old squire leads to Mary growing up with the squire's grandchildren and having all the benefits of a genteel education.

Trollope opens 'Doctor Thorne' giving us readers the chance to pick our hero. He prefers the titular Thorne, but allows that they may have Frank Gresham. Frank Gresham is heir, but as his father and mother, a daughter of the Earl de Coucy, have bankrupted the estate with election schemes and extravagant visits to Town, all will be lost unless he marries a great deal of money. Unfortunately, he has already fallen in love.

We have no choice in heroine. Observing every social duty and Victorian obligation, Mary Thorne is the acknowledged niece of the doctor but she is told nothing of her parents and of course must never trouble her pretty head about it. She all but grew up with Frank Gresham and his sisters, but when he tells her he loves her she is to be put through years of mental anguish and suffering.

Trollope goes to great lengths to remind the reader that Mary is entirely blameless. She offers no encouragement to Frank, however much she may want to, but she becomes a social pariah from mere suspicion. Lady Arabella, Franks mother, bars her from the house and from consorting with her children, despite still needing Dr. Thorne's services. Mary's low birth connections are known only to her uncle, the squire, and eventually, the squire's son - her prospective husband. No real thought is given to telling her, even when she pleads with her uncle to know who her mother was. Dr. Thorne wants to shield her from her low connections, even at the expense of her happiness.

In the opening chapter there is a lengthy exposition about the happiness of England in being one of the few places on Earth where the land is in the hands of the truly noble. With grinning irony the readers are asked to name the leading lights of other nations and compare them with the far longer list of those they know hailing from England. As much as the actions of the characters in the novel prove the lie of that boast, the truly noble are thoughtless, cruel and overall grasping for the money that fuels their privilege. Even our secondary hero, who pledges to give up everything for love, admits that he's useless for anything practical and takes no steps to remedy that fact in the months and months Mary is isolated and slandered. Even after the last page of the novel I wasn't sure if she shouldn't have gotten clean away from the place after all.

The writing is clever. While we don't get much more than statements about what is in Dr. Thorne's, or Mary's or Lady Arabella's heads at any given time, the social needs of the time are well displayed. Humor a shade more biting than previously seen in Barsetshire covers the squabbles between medical men, the mechanics of electioneering - complete with negative campaigning, and the high-stakes of wooing an heiress. He moralizes about the debilitating effects of strong drink and involves his readers with the moral dilemma of wanting a man's death while protesting, often and hard, that that isn't the case.

I didn't enjoy the plot, but the layers of social commentary make 'Doctor Thorne' a groundbreaking novel. I hope that some of the side characters, even poor snobbish Augusta, find their way into other novels later in the series, as Trollope seems to promise.


Consequently, I shall pay a visit to 'Framley Parsonage'.