Monday, October 3, 2011
Can You Forgive Her?--Anthony Trollope
Can You Forgive Her? is the first novel in the "Pallisers" series. I'm not certain whether this series of novels was ever known in Trollope's time under this name; however, ever since the BBC production of the entire series, they have become known as such to us. The Pallisers is a series of six novels that center around Platagenet and Glencora Palliser--although in this novel the couple is hardly at center stage. Or, if at center stage they share it prominently with one other trio and are shadowed by yet a third trio.
Indeed the novel is a novel of twos and threes. There are three groups of three people--Glencora, Plantagenet, and Burgo Fitzgerald; Alice Vavasor, her cousin George Vavasor, and John Grey; and Mrs. Greenow (an Aunt to Alice Vavsor), Captain Bellfield, and Mr. Cheesacre. The first two listed are the centerpieces of the novel, the last trio is present largely for broad comic relief--the poor Widow Greenow besieged by suitors on all sides while still in weeds. (In thinking about Widow Greenow, one imagines the type of operatic soprano who might play Brunhilda--not one might consider retiring and helpless.) It is interesting to note that in the televised series, this element of the novel is left out entirely.
So now a moment with the other two groups. They are built to be almost perfectly in balance. As the novel begins Lady Glencora is forced into a marriage with Platagenet Palliser even though she is impassioned about Burgo Fitzgerald. Also at the beginning Alice Vavasor is embroiled in an engagement (one likely to be of considerable duration) with John Grey (who is made out by Alice to be a near-perfect avatar of his name). This is after a lengthy relationship with her cousin George Vavasor, broken off for reasons that are never made explicit.
It is the troubles, turmoils, and trials of these two couples that are balanced and reflect off of each other. Alice is free to choose, Glencora is--after a fashion--if she wants to assume the mantle of a woman who has disgraced herself for love. But it is this essential dilemma that is being explored in the course of the book--how one makes a choice and whether one who really has no choice can be reconciled to that decision. To say more about this point would likely give away too much of the story.
Another interesting theme in the novel is introduced by the title: Can You Forgive Her? There are quite a few "hers" in the novel in need of forgiveness. Indeed, there are probably more "hims" in need of forgiveness than "hers." And what we see consistently throughout the novel is that those who are able to forgive often have a better time of things than those who hold on to their grievances. One can contrast George Vavasor with Alice Vavsor as one example--but there are a great many throughout the book. If one contrasts Mr. Cheesacre with either George Vavasor or Burgo Fitzgerald, the end result is instructive.
This is a massive novel, stuffed with people, events, ideas, themes, and concerns. It is easy to read (as Victorian novels go) but consumes a huge amount of time if read properly. This is a novel for a leisurely, careful read. It rewards the person who commits the time and energy to pursue it to its richly satisfying conclusion.