Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

I’ve recently read Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, which I’d meant to read about a year ago after I finished Barchester Towers! I enjoyed it, although I think it’s a bit too drawn out – I could see where the plot was going very early in the book. The conclusion is predictable.

But that didn’t matter as it’s a book about mid nineteenth-century prosperous country life and the traditional attitudes towards the accepted codes of conduct, of the importance of birth, of wealth and above all about money, class and power. It’s about human relationships and the strength of the novel is in the portraits of its characters and their responses to matters of principle in the face of upper class idiocy and snobbishness. Trollope uses gentle satire in this novel, emphasising the absurdities of the class divisions in society and poking fun at the professions, with the names of doctors, such as Dr Fillgrave, whose name wouldn’t inspire me with confidence, parliamentary agents such as Mr Nearthewind and Mr Closerstil and lawyers called Messrs Slow and Bideawhile.

Doctor Thorne is the third in Trollope’s Barchester Towers books – the first one not set in Barchester, but in Greshambury in East Barsetshire, where the Gresham family and Doctor Thorne and his niece Mary live. As the novel opens nothing is going well for the Gresham family, they are in financial difficulties, the estate is mortgaged and they are heavily in debt. It is imperative that Frank, the son and heir to Greshambury Park and its estate, should marry money – indeed, his mother, Lady Arabella, the sister of the Earl de Courcy insists ‘He must marry money‘, a refrain that is repeated throughout the novel. But Frank has fallen in love with Mary, who has neither money or rank, and is illegitimate and as the story proceeds she is increasingly ostracised by the Gresham family, egged on by their rich relations the De Courcys.

Although the book is called Doctor Thorne, the main character to my mind is Mary Thorne, who shows great strength of character throughout. Mary had been adopted by Doctor Thorne, after her father, his brother had been murdered by her mother’s brother. Her mother had left England for America, where she had married and had a family. The brother, meanwhile had done well for himself after he left prison and made a fortune. Mary knows nothing of her background.

I particularly liked Miss Dunstable, the daughter of ‘the ointment of Lebanon man‘, who had inherited £200,000 when he had died recently. The Gresham family, or rather Lady Arabella, instruct Frank that he is to ask her to marry him – her wealth over-riding the fact that her father was a tradesman.

My only criticism of this book is that the discussions about whether Frank and Mary should or should not be allowed to marry are too drawn out and slowed down the plot too much for my liking. Apart from that I thought it was good, Trollope’s authorial comments were interesting, the dialogue was realistic and lively and the main characters came over as real people. An entertaining novel and now I’m keen to read the next Barchester Towers book, Framley Parsonage; Doctor Thorne also appears in this book!

In his Autobiography Trollope wrote that he had been trying to think up a new plot and he asked his brother to sketch one for him, which he did! He thought it was a good plot and the book was, he believed, the most popular book he had written. He was surprised by its success.

After I finished reading Doctor Thorne I realised that it was a perfect choice for the What’s in a Name? Challenge in the category of a book with a profession in the title. It’s a book I’ve had since before 1 January 2016 and fits into the Mount TRB Reading Challenge too and it’s also a book I identified for the Classics Club Challenge.

I wanted to read Doctor Thorne before the three-part adaptation of the book that starts tonight on ITV at 9 pm, so that my reaction to it wouldn’t be influenced. Now that I have read it I’m not at all sure I’ll watch the adaptation. If there are too many changes I know it will irritate me.

14 thoughts on “Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

  1. This is one of my favourites of the six Barchester novels. Mary Thorne and Miss Dunstable are both great characters. I’ve found that most of Trollope’s books are predictable (he often tells us in advance what is going to happen) but, as you say, that doesn’t really matter.


    • I like the way Trollope comments on the characters in the text – in this one he digresses from the main story to tell what happened later on to Mr Gazebe who was refused by Lady Amelia.


  2. I can’t wait for the series to start tonight but can well understand why you’re in two minds. My problem will be the opposite one… will I want to read it after watching ther series as I’m never keen on reading books where I know exactly what’s going to happen.


    • I think one of the reasons I wanted to read Doctor Thorne before the series starts is just that I probably wouldn’t read the book afterwards and want to read all the Barchester books. And I’ve been disappointed so many times watching TV adaptations where they vary from the book and to my mind spoil it. I think I’ll start watching it and see how it goes.


  3. I do like those books that show what a time and place were like, Margaret. And it sounds as though this one does that quite well, even if parts of it didn’t move as quickly as you’d wished.


    • I think all the books I’ve read by Trollope are excellent in showing time and place – his descriptions of both people and places are detailed and easy to imagine.


  4. I was sure I had read this but having read your review I realise it rings no bells with me. Must rectify that! I now wonder how many other classics that I think I’ve read, I haven’t… *gulps*


    • I think I’ve read Crime and Punishment, but have I? I know I’ve read David Copperfield and Oliver Twist – but then again have I? Or have I only watched TV versions? And there are others …!


    • I watched The Night Manager and recorded Doctor Thorne, which I watched yesterday. I wouldn’t bother watching it – it’s not very good, as well as changing things – Miss Dunstable is American in it. There are other changes too and it seems so condensed, too much revealed too early. I’m not going to watch the rest of it.


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