Matters of the Heart

Author: Anthony Trollope

When you think of Anothony Trollope, you think of a good old drawing room drama. Ladies in pluming skirts, hiding behand fans, talking scandal as piano forte plays delicately in the background and the butler shuffles around, taking in all that aristocratic gossip. And what makes a better scandal than rejecting the status quo and marrying for love, not money!

Frank Gresham will be the heir to the Greshamsbury estate – a foundering money pit effectively ruined by Frank’s well-meaning father and extravagant mother. To save the estate, Frank HAS to marry money. The problem? Well, no good deed ever goes unpunished. The snooty Greshams showed some charity by allowing Mary Throne, the local doctor’s live-in niece, to play with their children, learn alongside them, and be an honorary member of a world she doesn’t belong in. This act has caused some definite problems, as Frank is now intent on pledging himself to the penniless and illegitimately born Mary. If he goes this route, against the advice of good society and his frantic parents, dear old Frank will have to put aside his hunting hounds and work for a living – a fate truly worse than death.

Meanwhile, Mary is a good girl and a proud one. Under the gentle direction of the loving Doctor Thorne, who knows all but refuses to get involved, Mary is attempting to do right by her benefactors and her heart. It’s not an easy decision. What she feels is right, and what society tells her is moral, are two different things.

As the ill-fated couple comes together, separates, and comes together, Trollope weaves an intense story – one that defies convention and extols morality, not mammon.

It’s an ages old tale, but Trollope really comes into his own when telling it. Mary, the feckless Frank, and all the cast of characters, from a rich drunkard to his dissolute son, to haughty women and hen-pecked husbands, all come alive, in both their good and bad qualities. Trollope is master of the complicated and the complicit, pulling apart the threads of daily life and ambition, gently, if acerbically toppling his characters’ idols. All the characters are flawed, in their own ways, yet all of them are genuine too. It’s a cast we soon come to care about, one that elicits strong emotions throughout the ups and downs of the story.

And yes, while it’s still the drawing room drama, there is a surprising amount of action and intrigue, all circulating around the lovable, albeit overwhelmed Dr. Throne himself. He holds the key to the young people’s happiness – but he must decide when and if to interfere. Should he reveal the truth, or should he let Mary be picked or rejected based on her own merits? He comes away as the true hero of the tale, and it is with his kindhearted and conflicted spirit that readers most identify. He deserves the title of the book, certainly.

As with the other books in the Bartsetshire series, Dr. Thorne can be read alone. I, personally, think this is the strongest in the series so far. Trollope hit his full stride here, oscillating nicely between story development and character development to keep everything juicy and addicting. I defy the modern reader to remain impassive. This Victorian love affair and what it reveals about the head and the heart, the desire for love verses the desire for material comfort, is still relevant for our own daily lives.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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