In this third volume of the Chronicles of Barsetshire, Anthony Trollope leaves behind familiar characters from the first two novels, and introduces his readers to an entirely new cast. The eponymous Doctor Thorne serves an area of Barsetshire that includes Greshamsbury and the Gresham family, which includes Frank, who has recently come of age. Thorne lives with his niece Mary, who is about Frank’s age. Can you see where this is going? Of course, but that’s not the point. It’s the journey to the inevitable ending that makes reading Trollope so much fun.
In Doctor Thorne, Frank’s father has fallen into debt, and the family’s only hope is for Frank to marry money. Mary is of humble birth, or so everyone believes. But Doctor Thorne has a long-held a secret about her origins, and he is far too ethical to spill the beans. Besides, if he did there would be no novel! Frank loves Mary and cares nothing about her class, but Frank’s mother, the haughty Lady Arabella, is constantly scheming to keep Frank and Mary apart and introduce Frank to wealthy women. Doctor Thorne stays out of it, trusting everyone to do the right thing but defending Mary when her honor is challenged:
“Why should I object? It is for you, Lady Arabella, to look after your lambs; for me to see that, if possible, no harm shall come to mine. If you think that Mary is an improper acquaintance for your children, it is for you to guide them; for you and their father. Say what you think fit to your own daughter; but pray understand, once for all, that I will allow no one to interfere with my niece.”
Trollope infuses this novel with his trademark wit. For example, he lets us know early on just what sort of woman is Lady Arabella:
Of course Lady Arabella could not suckle the young heir herself. Ladies Arabella never can. They are gifted with the powers of being mothers, but not nursing-mothers. Nature gives them bosoms for show, but not for use. So Lady Arabella had a wet-nurse.
Trollope guides us through several twists and turns, over more than 500 pages sprinkled with quips like this, before Frank and Mary are finally united. It’s all good fun making for a very pleasurable, satisfying read.