This was my fourth book in the Barset Chronicles to read this year, and the fifth and final book in my little 2017 Trollope challenge. Though I really enjoyed Framley Parsonage, I did find it to be the weakest Trollope novel I’ve read this year, and I think I will take a break before finishing off the series, perhaps next summer.
Framley Parsonage occurs in the same world as the previous novels in the series, and it largely centers around two related plots. Mark Robarts is a young minister who has had the very good look to land an appointment in the patronage of Lady Lufton. It’s a plum position for a man of his age, with few enough duties and compensation in both money and prestige. Nevertheless, it all begins to go to Mark’s head, and he ambitiously begins to cultivate relationships with political operators associated with the dreaded Duke of Omnium. Lady Lufton has recommended against such relationships, and we know that things are going to go badly in these relationships for Mr. Robarts.
Meanwhile, Mark’s sister Lucy has come to live with him. Though the Robarts are well-inferior to the Luftons, Lucy and the young Lord Lufton (son of Lady Lufton) have fallen in love. Similarly to in Doctor Thorne, their relationship has quite a few financial and social barriers, and the worse Mark’s troubles become, the worse Lucy’s are, too.
I thoroughly enjoyed the things in Framley Parsonage that I’ve enjoyed the Trollope’s other novels. The characters are fleshed out, and this includes the ones who cause the most trouble and do the most stupid things. Lady Lufton would appear a villain for objecting to Lucy and Lord Lufton’s relationships, but she’s also understandable. We know that she’s kind and wise, and so this conflict is both more realistic and more complex. Even Nathaniel Sowerby, who really does some wicked things in the novel, is just a pathetic creature, more to be pitied than hated. I very much admire this moral complexity in Trollope’s worldview and think that the plots, too, are the better for it.
The general plot of Framley Parsonage works, too. Some parts of it are a rehash of Doctor Thorne, but on those points (the romantic subplot), I’m not sure that Framley Parsonage isn’t superior. Lucy and Lord Lufton, to me, are a more mature and realistic couple than Mary and Frank in Doctor Thorne, and so I thoroughly enjoyed the romantic subplot here.
Other parts of the novel, though, can be a little irksome. I found Mark to be so naive that it was almost unbearable. At each point, it’s so obvious how he’s going to foul up things, and he does it anyway. I found myself cringing at times reading it. I also wondered if the novel went on too long, particular given the predictability of some aspects of the plot, and one of the subplots with two familiar characters from the series (I won’t say who for fear of giving something away) struck me as unrealistic given their previous characterizations.
Nevertheless, on the whole, this is a generally satisfying novel, with an effective romance and strong characterizations. It’s a quiet read, perhaps slower and less dramatic than other Barset novels, which I liked. This is yet another successful Trollope novel, and with each one, my estimation of this underrated novelist has kept growing.