Righteous Ruin

Author: Anthony Trollope

Have you ever had the desire to know great people? To rise above your place in life? To be with the “in” crowd and reap all the benefits that come along with popularity and status? If so, then Framley Parsonage is the Victorian-era tale of caution for you.

Mark Robarts is a lucky young cleric. He was installed as a young man by Lady Lufton, and he and his wife are already living well at the parsonage, with a yearly stipend beyond what a man of his age and experience could usually hope to expect. But Mark wants more, and when Lady Lufton’s son introduces him to the fancy country set, with temptations like hunting on a Sunday and hob-knobbing with the dubious Duke of Omnium, he can’t resist. Soon, one of this set, the smooth-talking Mr. Sowerby, has persuaded Mark to append his signature to a small bill, just for convenience. That’s when Mark starts to pay for his sudden rise in power, and as the bill increases, the deadline approaches, and the creditors rally, his fancy new friends are nowhere in sight.

Meanwhile, it’s a Trollope novel, so we must have a thwarted love story. Mark’s sister, Lucy, has recently moved into the parsonage and has accidentally fallen for Lady Lufton’s son. But it’s a match that must not be – what would society think! In this on-again-off again love affair of the heart, Lucy errs toward the side of sacrificial love, but her lordly paramour is determined to break with the expectations of society and his proud mother.

Meanwhile, a few other characters move in and out of the tale, including the dreaded Sowerby and even some characters from previous books, namely Miss Dunstable and Dr. Throne and the collection of Grantlys. You could easily start at this, book four, without previously knowing the other characters, and still make perfect sense of the tale (after all, Mark and the Lufton are new), but it helps to have already been immersed in this world and tied into the side stories of the other characters who flit through the background of financial and priestly ruin.

Mark Robarts and his wife waiting for the creditors.

As with the other Barsetshire novels, Framley Parsonage is a sleeper story, but it’s a good one. The main attraction for me was Mark’s story. The deadliness of the game played against him, plus the duplicity that preyed upon his naivety and greed is realistic and dynamic. It’s hard not to feel for Mark, whose error is so incredibly human, one we have all fallen into. He ran with the wrong crowd and got burned. But being burned in this way, and this time, could spell ruin. Should he go deeper into the mistake to save face, to save family, and to save something to live on, or should he accept the consequences of another’s calculated actions and declare bankruptcy and ruin, stopping the vicious cycle? It was this part of the story with Sowerby, who is surprisingly not an entirely evil figure, that truly drew me into the story and made this one another five-star addition to an ever-strengthening series.

Lucy’s love affair is less mesmerizing. By four books in, we’re familiar with the love vs status quandary, and we know that at least one of the lovers, usually the woman, will choose to save face and break hearts. It’s not new at this point, and Lucy and Ludvic are less well-known entities to us. We’re still interested in their story, but the love hasn’t truly touched our hearts as it did in other Trollope tales, and we find ourselves peeking over their demurring shoulders to see if the creditors are at Mark’s door yet.

The other stories are very much more sidelined. We have Griselda Grantly, a stoic figure looking to sell herself in marriage for wealth and prestige, who is of passing interest. We have an altogether too rapid resolution to Miss Dunstable and Doctor Throne’s relationship – a move that should have taken an entire book instead of being relegated to a few mere chapters! We also have Lucy playing nurse to a poor family, helping a mother with typhus despite her husband’s desire not to accept charity. These side stories are all interesting; because it is Trollope, there are multiple layers of human goodness and greed, but again, we find ourselves drawn back to the parsonage with its ruined parson, pacing in his room, prey to one moment of weakness that could cost him and his family his entire living.

All in all, Framley Parsonage was another good edition to the Chronicles of Barsetshire. Onward to the next book!

The Barsetshire Series:

The Warden

Barchester Towners

Doctor Thorne

Framley Parsonage

The Small House at Allington

The Last Chronicle of Barset


– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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