Feeling the need of a bracing moral universe rather than one in which politicians earn moral miles on their personal journeys I took to reading novels. If I were to characterise Victory by Conrad in pop terms it would be World of Moral Warcraft. Framley Parsonage by Trollope would be Can’t Pay, We’ll take it Away. Compare and Contrast. Just writing that creates a sinking feeling; tourbillons of chalk dust rise and afar off the snicker snack of the bar mower in the far field lays down stripes of grass.
From a craft point of view ‘Framley’ is the better novel, the story moves along smoothly with just enough of incident to show and of analysis to tell. That balance is hard to achieve. Of all the Trollope that I have read this is the one in which his mastery of clerical intrigue, snobbery, genteel poverty, and political duplicity is displayed at its finest. Of course I haven’t read all of Trollope, I’d have had to start from a boy for that, yet there does seem to me troughs and peaks in the oeuvre. Recently I started on The Duke’s Children and that cutting didn’t strike. In this novel though the variety of scenes as we move from squirearchy to hierarchy never sinks into longueurs. The blank beauty Griselda Grantly and aptly named Lord Dumbello: will they marry? Certainly, if barbarian eugenics, pace Arnold, are to flourish. Will the delightful, sparky Lucy Robarts find true love with Lord Lufton. He is beyond her station and mother Lufton does not approve. Mark Robarts has been silly and gone guarantor for Sowerby M.P.. £900 is a serious sum and there’s the riding to hunt which Parson Crawley upbraids him for. Even then bailiffs were apologetic but firm.
Parson Crawley is a proud ascetic who would starve his family rather that succumb to worldly manoeuvres. The parish of Hogglestock is not a rich one. £130 a year is all he gets which leaves him and his family worse off than their brickmaker parishoners.
And sometimes he was prostrate—prostrate in soul and spirit. Then would he complain with bitter voice, crying out that the world was too hard for him, that his back was broken with his burden, that his God had deserted him. For days and days, in such moods, he would stay within his cottage, never darkening the door or seeing other face than those of his own inmates. Those days were terrible both to him and her. He would sit there unwashed, with his unshorn face resting on his hand, with an old dressing-gown hanging loose about him, hardly tasting food, seldom speaking, striving to pray, but striving so frequently in vain. And then he would rise from his chair, and, with a burst of frenzy, call upon his Creator to remove him from this misery.And then, don’t laugh, typhus strikes.
An excellent novel. Humour, tragedy, pathos, ordinary everyday evil and bungling and a cast of well drawn and credible characters. You could do worse this summer.