Group read: Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

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Group read: Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

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Nov 1, 2013, 4:51am

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (1865)

"Who will read Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, Phineas Redux, and The Prime Minister consecutively, in order that he may understand the characters of the Duke of Omnium, of Plantagenet Palliser, and Lady Glencora? Who will even know that they should so be read?"
---Anthony Trollope

Editado: Nov 1, 2013, 5:31am

Welcome, all, to the group read of Can You Forgive Her?, the first novel in Anthony Trollope's "Palliser" series.

Can You Forgive Her? was serialised from January 1864 - August 1865, and was published first as two separate volumes in 1864 and 1865 before being reissued as a single volume in 1866.

Although the Palliser series generally focuses upon politics, and the politic upheaval that marked the second half of the 19th century (with governments coming and going in a way that American readers often find most bewildering!), Can You Forgive Her? is not heavily political. Rather, it is an extended rumination upon marriage, using three distinct love-triangles, each focused upon a woman (a single woman, a married woman, a widow), to make its points. Two of these triangles are treated deadly seriously, while the third functions as a comic commentary upon the other two.

The premise of Can You Forgive Her? was first used by Trollope in The Noble Jilt, his failed attempt at writing a play. Like the novel, the play was about a young woman who hesitates between two suitors. Although Trollope (on strong and sound advice) abandoned the play, the idea of a woman over-analysing herself into fatal indecision was one that continued to intrigue him, and fourteen years later it resurfaced in a novel.

It is important for readers of Can You Forgive Her? to understand that in Victorian times an engagement was taken very seriously indeed, and that a broken engagement was damaging to a woman's reputation whatever the cause of it. In fact, a woman whose engagement was broken was often considered "damaged goods", and her chances of marrying were significantly reduced. For this reason no gentleman was ever supposed to break an engagement, except on the most extreme provocation, and the breach-of-promise laws effectively allowed a woman to sue a man but not the other way around. (Though of course no woman who aired her dirty laundry in court would be considered marriageable either...)

The fascinating thing about Can You Forgive Her?'s extended consideration of marriage is that it is presented almost exclusively from a female perspective; the exasperating thing about it is that, nevertheless, the novel ultimately maintains and supports a conservative male viewpoint. That said, it should be pointed out that the novel was written at a time of vocal public discourse upon women's lives and alternatives to marriage, so that it is not so much reflecting reality as reacting to it.

While this is the novel's overarching structure, Can You Forgive Her? is of course most famous for bringing to the forefront the characters of Plantagenet Palliser and the Lady Glencora Palliser, who were briefly introduced in The Small House At Allington. These two remain the heart and soul of the entire Palliser series, and comprise one of the most intricate, sympathetic and heartfelt character studies in all of 19th century literature; I'm tempted to say, in all of literature.

To go from the sublime to the ridiculous---Can You Forgive Her? also contains the first of Trollope's many, many hunting scenes. Hunting, like going into Parliament, was something Trollope aspired to but never achieved: his weight kept him from pursuing this past-time successfully*, though he never lost his passion for it. Some readers find these sequences tiresome (and from an animal-lover's point of view, offensive), and while they are self-indulgent, it is important that they are not skipped over: Trollope uses these scenes carefully to reveal character, and readers should be alert to the behaviours seen in the course of a hunt, and in particular how various individuals treat their horses.

(*Trollope writes himself into this hunting-scene as Pollock, "the sporting literary gentleman", whose weight is too much for his horse.)

I think that's enough for now! Hopefully we'll get some good discussion going about the women in this novel, and the decisions they make, and why---and whether we will forgive her. :)

One last point: I always say this, but really, I cannot stress this enough---if you are new to the Palliser series, do not read the introduction or the endnotes in your edition. Far too often these include massive spoilers not just for this novel but for the series as a whole. If you have any questions about obscure points in the novel, please raise them here.

Editado: Nov 1, 2013, 5:32am

So let's do roll-call! Who's in this time around?

Nov 1, 2013, 6:15am

I'm in!

Nov 1, 2013, 6:33am

I'm listening to the audiobook read by Timothy West and I'm up to chapter 3.

Nov 1, 2013, 9:00am

I'm in! I'll be starting it very soon!

Nov 1, 2013, 9:07am

I have been missing Trollope so I am definitely in although I won't get started until mid-month as I have some library books to read first.

Nov 1, 2013, 1:06pm

Added thread to the group wiki...

Nov 1, 2013, 1:35pm

Liz, I just want to clarify that this passage from chapter 1 is not actually referring to physical violence:

Now and again it will happen that the cook is treacherous even to him, and then he can hit hard; but in hitting he is quiet, and strikes with a smile on his face.

In light of what we've been through with Frank Gresham and Johnny Eames, I had to ask! (Of course, John Vavasor is about twice their age.)

Nov 1, 2013, 3:15pm

I think I'm in. This will be my first Trollope, but I have a complete set of the Palliser novels that were my mother's. She was a big Trollope fan, so I'm looking forward to this. Just a bit intimidated as it seems y'all have been together since the start of the Barsetshire series!

Nov 1, 2013, 4:24pm

Welcome, Carrie, Kerry, Jean, Donna and particularly our newcomer, Katie!

Thanks, Jim!

No hurry about starting, we always have some staggering of the reading. I do ask (which I forgot to say before) that everyone clearly mark any chapter they are commenting on by bolding, so that those behind can avoid spoilers.

That's verbal hard hitting, Carrie - we're not supposed to envisage Mr Vavasor tackling his cook into a railway station bookstand! :)

We have, Katie, but that's okay! The Barsetshire and Palliser series do overlap somewhat, with some of the characters appearing in both and some reference here to past events, but if there's anything you don't understand, please just ask - the more questions the better!

It is because of that overlap that we have begun the Palliser series before completing the Barsetshire series - the events of Can You Forgive Her? occur before those of The Last Chronicle Of Barset.

Editado: Nov 1, 2013, 5:03pm

Since the Palliser novels are largely about politics, I think it's fitting that we start with some:

Chapter 1

Two years after his wife's death Mr Vavasor was appointed assistant commissioner in some office which had to do with insolvents, and which was abolished three years after his appointment. It was at first thought that he would keep his eight hundred a year for life and be required to do nothing for it; but a wretched cheeseparing Whig government, as John Vavasor called it when describing the circumstances of the arrangement to his father, down in Westmoreland, would not permit this; it gave him the option of taking four hundred a year for doing nothing, or of keeping his whole income and attending three days a week for three hours a day during term time... Of course he considered himself to be a very hardly-used man. One Lord Chancellor after another he petitioned, begging that he might be relieved from the cruelty of his position... With every Lord Chancellor he argued that all Westminster Hall, and Lincoln's Inn to boot, had no right to call upon him to degrade himself by signing his name to accounts.

I wish I could get an appointment under a wretched cheeseparing Whig government...

Nov 1, 2013, 5:13pm

I read this earlier this year, so I'll be following along and hope I will remember enough to add the occasional comment.

I agree about the Whig appointment, Liz!

Nov 1, 2013, 6:53pm

I'm definitely in but probably won't start until mid-month.

Nov 2, 2013, 7:24am

I'm in! Started yesterday and have read the first three chapters so far.

#12 Oh yes!

Liz, there was a question I wanted to ask about Chapter 1. The Upper Ten Thousand referred to in the first sentence isn't a phrase I've come across before. Is it a phrase used to refer to high society or something more specific?

Nov 2, 2013, 4:02pm

Hi, Genny, Bonnie and Heather - welcome, and please join in whenever you can!

Heather the expression you may have heard (if you haven't, you will come across Georgette Heyer using it eventually) is the ton, which means the same thing. Briefly, approximately ten thousand people could consider themselves as part of, or as related by blood to, the British aristocracy. "The Upper Ten Thousand" was therefore an expression used to designate the elite of society.

Alice could consider herself as part of the Upper Ten Thousand by virtue of her relatives on her mother's side, but she chooses to ally herself with her father's family who are on the other side of the invisible divide.

Nov 2, 2013, 4:39pm

#16 Ah, yes, I have heard of the ton. Thanks!

I've read through to the end of Chapter 6 now and really want to know what George Vavasor did to cause Alice to break off their informal engagement. Are there hints I'm missing or should I just be patient?

This is reminding me a bit of the Lily love triangle in The Small House at Allington; I'm not convinced that either John or George are quite right for Alice. John seems like a nice guy but this quote from Chapter 3 makes me very doubtful of their future marital happiness and I don't trust George Vavasor further than I can throw him (and I throw like a girl).

Now that he was with her she could not say the things which she had told herself that she would utter to him. She could not bring herself to hint to him that his views of life were so unlike her own, that there could be no chance of happiness between them, unless each could strive to lean somewhat towards the other. No man could be more gracious in word and manner than John Grey; no man more chivalrous in his carriage towards a woman; but he always spoke and acted as though there could be no question that his manner of life was to be adopted, without a word or thought of doubting, by his wife. When two came together, why should not each yield something, and each claim something? This she had meant to say to him on this day; but now that he was with her she could not say it.

But I suppose if one were an obvious good match for her then there probably wouldn't be a love triangle....

Nov 2, 2013, 5:04pm

I'm very glad to hear you say that, because that is exactly how I always react to John Grey too! I find Alice's reasons for baulking perfectly understandable and completely valid - much more so than, I think, the novel intends us to - and this quote just makes my skin crawl:

but he always spoke and acted as though there could be no question that his manner of life was to be adopted, without a word or thought of doubting, by his wife.

Nov 2, 2013, 5:40pm

#18 by lyzard> In his defense Alice admits she's never said a word to him about it. And of course that was de rigeur at the time.

Nov 2, 2013, 8:08pm

As with the increasing discussion of women's lives, the question of what a marriage should be was the subject of much debate at the time and I think that's also reflected in this novel in these sorts of internal debates.

Heather, it's never made perfectly explicit what George did, though it is inferred that at the very least he was still keeping a mistress while he was courting Alice and she found out about it. It may have been worse than that. Perhaps she caught them together? We get a sense that she was not just hurt but deeply insulted by whatever happened.

Given what we learn later on about George's views on marriage, I even wonder if he deliberately sabotaged their relationship.

Nov 3, 2013, 2:38pm

Speaking of The Small House At Allington--- I think the relationship dynamics here are quite different, but again we find Trollope fascinated (quite against the prevailing social insistence upon simplicity and straightforwardness) by a young woman with a complicated psychology.

Although there is tacit criticism of Alice throughout, the novel at least stops to consider her demand that her marriage offer her specific, personal happiness. Her motives are invariably mixed (and confused) but the underlying contention that she cannot be happy in the life she is being offered and therefore could not make her husband happy is given some weight - against the convention that a wife's task was to "adjust herself" to whatever circumstances she found herself in.

The fact that Glencora, who is attempting - or not - that "adjustment", is presented as a foil and a contrast to the vacillating Alice makes me feel that Trollope was sympathising with Alice almost against his own judgement.

Nov 3, 2013, 5:15pm

I apparently have blocked from memory the whole 'fishing outing' chapter (9 I think). I've read this book twice already but was surprised when I got to it. Glad it's over, lol. How annoying these people can be!

Editado: Nov 3, 2013, 6:24pm

Jokes about "merry widows" are as old as the hills, of course, but Trollope uses Aunt Greenow to underscore the serious point that the only time a woman really had freedom of choice and action was as a widow! :)

There is also a wry suggestion, I think, that sometimes people are better off not being too sensitive: Aunt Greenow neither feels too much (like Glencora) nor thinks too much (like Alice). She made a mercenary marriage with her eyes wide open, got out of it exactly what she planned to, and now has charge of her own life.

It's interesting to compare her pragmatism with Plantagenet's obliviousness - two different forms of thick-skinned-ness that protect their owners from hurt, as opposed to the various miseries suffered by Alice and Glencora..

Nov 3, 2013, 6:25pm

Just another discussion point it would be interesting to hear opinions on---a lot of analysts over the years have read Kate Vavasor as a lesbian with feelings for Alice, and attributed her obsession with forcing Alice into marriage with George as a kind of "transference". Thoughts?

Nov 4, 2013, 2:21pm

#20 Well, I will just have to imagine something suitably scandalous happening then.

#22 Whereas by contrast, I loved that section (if it's the picnic where I think they ended up not fishing?) and thought it was the funniest thing I've read for some time....

Chapter 10

Nethercoats - is this a sly reference to Netherfield Park from Pride and Prejudice?

And who here wouldn't marry John Grey for his library?

"The library, which was the largest of the three, was a handsome chamber, and so filled as to make it well known in the University as one of the best private collections in that part of England."

Nov 4, 2013, 2:38pm

#21 "makes me feel that Trollope was sympathising with Alice almost against his own judgement."
#23 "the only time a woman really had freedom of choice and action was as a widow!"

I came here to comment on Chapter 11 but, yes, this was pretty much where I'd got to too.

I found both Trollope and John Grey somewhat patronising in this chapter and I suspect Alice would agree with me ("you treat me as though I were partly silly, and partly insane; but it is not so"), but it was Trollope's comments I found most interesting. He spends several paragraphs explaining why he feels Alice is just overthinking things and should just marry John and live happily ever after but at the same time, he's created in Alice a fully-formed and rounded, real character who acts and behaves as if she has real reasons to believe that marrying John Grey may not be the best decision for either of them. Thinking of other writers of the time, it seems quite rare for someone to write a character they disagree with so persuasively. Trollope writes that he thinks Alice is being a bit silly (not her fault, she's been confused by evil feminists), but he doesn't write her as silly. I don't know whether that's a mark of genius or implies that he sympathises with her more than he wants to believe he does.

And I finished Chapters 8-11 feeling like Aunt Greenow probably did the best thing when it came to Victorian marriages and that John Grey is insufferable :-(

#24 That had not occurred to me at all but I never pick up on those sorts of things. I will bear it in mind but my initial reaction is no. I read Kate's obsession with Alice and George marrying as part of her larger obsession with George in general - she seems very involved with his life and career (I think she gave him money to try for Parliament?). It made sense to me that she would also want to be involved in who he married.

Editado: Nov 4, 2013, 5:13pm

One of Trollope's great strengths as a novelist is his ability to put himself inside the mind of someone he thoroughly disagrees with. He tends to do it more successfully with men, I think - he suffers failures of both imagination and sympathy when dealing with women who want more than society says they should have - but still, the extent to which he understands Alice while nevertheless disapproving everything she does is remarkable.

I don't necessarily agree with that reading of Kate - though I wouldn't say it's out of the question - but like the assumption of a sexual relationship between Lily and Crosbie in The Small House At Allington, it is something very commonly assumed when this novel is being analysed, so I thought I would put it out there.

What we see with Alice and Kate is a reflection of the fact that many women could only live vicariously through their men---and even that only up to a point. Reflected glory was apparently acceptable, but active inteference of any kind is almost invariably punished. (In Phineas Finn we will meet a character who comes a terrible cropper through trying to exercise political power through her male connections.)

As for John Grey's library---can I have the library without the man? Please??

Hadn't thought about a possible Nethercoats / Netherfield connection - not out of the question, since we know Trollope was given to Austen allusions.

Nov 4, 2013, 5:33pm

I feel badly for John Grey. Her cousin is a cad which you can tell from the word go. She's rejeccting the 'good boy' for the 'bad boy'. I sympathize with her wants and her wishes to be considered, but she hasn't even brought it up with John Grey. She's imagining his reactions in her head. Granted those are the normal reactions of men of this period but give poor John a chance, honey!

And I've read this before so know what happens so that is probably coloring my thinking.

Nov 4, 2013, 6:19pm

Chapter 7 It seems like George's scandalous behavior may not be just in the past. I thought this passage from the beginning of ch. 7 was interesting:

nor during those days, nor for some days afterwards, did George show himself. As it turned out afterwards, he had gone off to Scotland, and had remained a week among the grouse. Thus, at least, he had accounted for himself and his movements, but all George Vavasor's friends knew that his goings out and comings in were seldom accounted for openly like those of other men.

I think the lesbian interpretation is possibly reading too much into the text. Kate and Alice are cousins and neither one has a sister. I think the relationship between them would naturally be of a sisterly/familial nature.

Editado: Nov 4, 2013, 7:44pm

We know that Alice starts having her serious doubts after her visit to Nethercoats, though - conversations aren't reported but I think we can reasonably assume there have been conversations. (To cheat and jump ahead a bit, when there is later a debate on public vs private life, John calls it "Our old argument", showing that there have been genuine exchanges of ideas between them.) Her failure to verbalise it at this point may reflect a feeling that verbalising in the past hadn't got her anywhere.

We do get a closer look at one aspect of George's private life later in the novel. You're not necessarily off the mark in the way you interpret that passage, Carrie. :)

Nov 6, 2013, 5:13pm

#29 I also found Chapter 12 very interesting when considering George's character:

Vavasor also maintained another little establishment, down in Oxfordshire; but the two establishments did not even know of each other's existence. There was a third, too, very closely hidden from the world's eye, which shall be nameless; but of the establishment in Oxfordshire he did sometimes speak, in very humble words, among his friends.

Three separate establishments, none of which know about the other, none of which his friends get invited to and one which is very hidden and remains nameless. I am suspicious enough to think 'mistress' at this point. And although I said I didn't like John Grey much above, George is giving me the creeps in a big way.

I've somehow flown ahead to Chapter 24: enjoyed more adventures of Mrs Greenow and her suitors along the way and the hunting chapters (16 & 17) weren't as bad as a I thought they would be although I did feel sorry for the fox and horses (especially the poor horse that ended in the ditch) :-( Now getting to know Lady Glencora and Mr Palliser.

Liz, what was a Radical at this period? Something about secret ballots in Chapter 23?

Editado: Feb 22, 2014, 7:45pm

Creepy, and getting creepier. And it isn't just that Alice and Kate don't, and cannot, really know George - there's a pathological aspect to his secrecy and this maintenance of different lives and identities that goes far beyond the usual stashing of a mistress (though we don't doubt that's one aspect of it).

You might want to take your hunting-field impressions of Burgo Fitzgerald into your future reading, Heather.

Ooh, a "Radical"... That's a word with many meanings, though the simplest definition is probably "someone in favour of reform at a faster rate than the government was willing to contemplate". In terms of electoral processes, the secret ballot was considered a "radical" reform, though it was in fact introduced only 7 years after Can You Forgive Her? was published, along with a new wave of legislation around bribery and other corrupt electioneering practices (which we see quite a lot of later in the novel). Amusingly, one argument frequently made against the secret ballot was that it was the thin edge of the wedge - "What next - votes for women!?"

Prior to the 19th century voting in England was in the grip of the aristocracy who could compel their tenants to vote as they wanted. Electoral reform was a major issue throughout the 19th century, with abolition of rotten boroughs, redistribution of electoral boundaries and extension of the franchise; but undoing centuries of abuse was a long slow process. One of the reforms that was widely considered "radical" was the secret ballot, which was intended to protect voters (particularly tradespeople and tenant farmers) who were very vulnerable to economic threats from the local landowners. Prior to its introduction, voters had to declare openly who they were voting for, and a man who had the nerve to vote in opposition to his landlord often paid the price.

However, despite reform there were many areas where the old ways still operated---and one of the worst transgressers in these novels, unsurprisingly, is the Duke of Omnium, who still gets "his" candidates elected on a regular basis. Trollope has fun with the irony inherent in Plantagenet Palliser being an enthusiastic reformer and yet reaping all the benefits of the Omnium connection.

Trollope was dead against the secret ballot, because he believed that men should have the courage of their convictions and so vote openly, but of course he wasn't in a position to be subject to retribution.

Nov 8, 2013, 5:39am

Ch. 16

Yet more disturbing information about George's character:

He was not a man that made himself really popular in any social meetings of men. He did not himself care for the loose little talkings, half flat and half sharp, of men when they meet together in idleness. He was not open enough in his nature for such popularity. Some men were afraid of him, and some suspected him... With women he could be happy. With women he could really associate. A woman he could really love; --but I doubt whether for all that he could treat a woman well.

I'm really starting to worry about poor Alice. Is George being deliberately misleading in chapter 21 when, in response to Alice stating that her assistance in George's anticipated political career would be worthless, he tells her "By no means worthless, Alice, not if I see you take that place in the world which I hope to see you fill. Alice takes this as a compliment, but I have to wonder just what place George has in mind for Alice?

I don't much like Kate or Aunt Greenow, but since Kate is so manipulative with Alice, I do enjoy seeing that she seems to have met her match in Aunt Greenow!

Nov 8, 2013, 6:57am

#33 Our friend George doesn't improve in later chapters....


Chapter 30

Vavasor, when he had finished his letter, went back to his seat over the fire, and there he sat with it close at his hand for nearly an hour. Once or twice he took it up with fingers almost itching to throw it into the fire. He took it up and held the corners between his forefinger and thumb, throwing forward his hand towards the flame, as though willing that the letter should escape from him and perish if chance should so decide. But chance did not so decide, and the letter was put back upon the table at his elbow. Then when the hour was nearly over he read it again. "I'll bet two to one that she gives way," he said to himself, as he put the sheet of paper back into the envelope. "Women are such out-and-out fools." Then he took his candle, and carrying his letter with him, went into his bedroom.

What an attitude in which to write a marriage proposal!

Chapter 33

"Very well," said he; "so be it. It is probably the best thing that I could do, whatever the effect may be on her."

Oh, Alice! :-(

Nov 8, 2013, 4:12pm

The thing that catches my eye now is those early scenes between George and Kate where she's urging him on and he's pretending he doesn't care...except that the further we go, the more it seems that he's only pretending he's pretending. Even when he says what he means he has to make it look as though he doesn't.

I'm divided in my mind over how much play-acting there is about George's behaviour. He obviously gets a perverse egotistical pleasure out of this vision of himself as a kind of outlaw or lone wolf, living beyond society's rules, but then plays that part so long he actually becomes his invented persona.

Editado: Nov 8, 2013, 5:30pm

Anyway... My apologies, all: I ended up not having as much time to devote to this thread as I'd anticipated this week, and dropped the ball somewhat. As a kind of catch-up, here are a few quotes I marked on the way through:

Chapter 11

She would have liked, I think, to have been the wife of the leader of a Radical opposition, in the time when such men were put into prison, and to have kept up for him his seditious correspondence while he lay in the Tower. She would have carried the answers to him inside her stays,—and have made long journeys down into northern parts without any money, if the cause required it. She would have liked to have around her ardent spirits, male or female, who would have talked of "the cause," and have kept alive in her some flame of political fire. As it was, she had no cause.

Chapter 18

But the sagacious heads were victorious, as we know, and Lady Glencora M'Cluskie became Lady Glencora Palliser with all the propriety in the world, instead of becoming wife to poor Burgo, with all imaginable impropriety. And then she wrote a letter to Alice, very short and rather sad; but still with a certain sweetness in it. "She had been counselled that it was not fitting for her to love as she had thought to love, and she had resolved to give up her dream. Her cousin Alice, she knew, would respect her secret. She was going to become the wife of the best man, she thought, in all the world; and it should be the one care of her life to make him happy." She said not a word in all her letter of loving this newly found lord.

Chapter 24

So he married Lady Glencora and was satisfied. The story of Burgo Fitzgerald was told to him, and he supposed that most girls had some such story to tell. He thought little about it, and by no means understood her when she said to him, with all the impressiveness which she could throw into the words, "You must know that I have really loved him." "You must love me now," he had replied with a smile; and then as regarded his mind, the thing was over.

Chapter 25

    "But what reason is there why you shouldn't marry him?"
    "This chiefly," said Alice, after a pause; "that I have just separated myself from a man whom I certainly did love truly, and that I cannot transfer my affections quite so quickly as that."
    As soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew that they should not have been spoken. It was exactly what Glencora had done. She had loved a man and had separated herself from him and had married another all within a month or two. Lady Glencora first became red as fire over her whole face and shoulders, and Alice afterwards did the same as she looked up, as though searching in her cousin's eyes for pardon.
    "It is an unmaidenly thing to do, certainly," said Lady Glencora very slowly, and in her lowest voice. "Nay, it is unwomanly; but one may be driven. One may be so driven that all gentleness of womanhood is driven out of one."
    "Oh, Glencora!"
    "I did not propose that you should do it as a sudden thing."
    "I did do it suddenly. I know it. I did it like a beast that is driven as its owner chooses."

Nov 11, 2013, 11:05am

I'm up to chapter 32. The more I hear (I have an audible edition) the more I want to rewatch The Pallisers series. I loved that show.

Nov 11, 2013, 2:42pm

#35 "but then plays that part so long he actually becomes his invented persona." Very interesting Liz, particularly in light of how George develops

#37 I'm saving the TV series of The Pallisers for a special treat whenever we've read all the books (as they're first time reads for me). I loved the TV adaptation of the first couple of Barsetshire books.

Nov 11, 2013, 2:43pm

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I'm up to chapter 66. I seem to have got so caught up in the book that I've just been reading and reading without coming over here to comment.

So, spoilers up to chapter 66.

I was quite startled how violent George became, although I think it makes sense in light of Liz's comment above.

And this was a surprise from Mr Palliser, in chapter 58:

"I think, dear," he said, still holding her by her waist, "that we had better leave England for a while. I will give up politics for this season. Should you like to go to Switzerland for the summer, or perhaps to some of the German baths, and then on to Italy when the weather is cold enough?" Still she was silent. "Perhaps your friend, Miss Vavasor, would go with us?"

In chapter 61, I'm not sure I really understand what John Grey is trying to achieve by paying George instead of letting Alice pay him:

"The money won't be missed by me if I never get married," said Grey, with a smile. "If she does marry me, of course I shall make her pay me."

"No, by George! that won't do," said Vavasor. "If she were your daughter you'd know that she could not take a man's money in that way."

"And I know it now, though she is not my daughter. I was only joking. As soon as I am certain,—finally certain,—that she can never become my wife, I will take back my money. You need not be afraid. The nature of the arrangement we have made shall then be explained to her."

He's only trying to protect Alice's fortune if he marries her??

And chapter 63 does not leave me feeling easier about a future marriage between John Grey and Alice:

"That's the worst of being in Parliament," said Grey. "A man can't do anything without giving a reason for it. There must be men for public life, of course; but, upon my word, I think we ought to be very much obliged to them."

Alice, as she took her old lover's arm, and walked down with him to dinner, thought of all her former quarrels with him on this very subject. On this very point she had left him. He had never argued the matter with her. He had never asked her to argue with him. He had not condescended so far as that. Had he done so, she thought that she would have brought herself to think as he thought. She would have striven, at any rate, to do so. But she could not become unambitious, tranquil, fond of retirement, and philosophic, without an argument on the matter,—without being allowed even the poor grace of owning herself to be convinced. If a man takes a dog with him from the country up to town, the dog must live a town life without knowing the reason why;—must live a town life or die a town death. But a woman should not be treated like a dog. "Had he deigned to discuss it with me!" Alice had so often said. "But, no; he will read his books, and I am to go there to fetch him his slippers, and make his tea for him." All this came upon her again as she walked down-stairs by his side; and with it there came a consciousness that she had been driven by this usage into the terrible engagement which she had made with her cousin. That, no doubt, was now over. There was no longer to her any question of her marrying George Vavasor. But the fact that she had been mad enough to think and talk of such a marriage, had of itself been enough to ruin her. "Things of that sort are so often over with you!" After such a speech as that to her from her father, Alice told herself that there could be no more "things of that sort" for her. But all her misery had been brought about by this scornful superiority to the ordinary pursuits of the world,—this looking down upon humanity. "It seems to me," she said, very quietly, while her hand was yet upon his arm, "that your pity is hardly needed. I should think that no persons can be happier than those whom you call our public men."

"Ah!" said he, "that is our old quarrel." He said it as though the quarrel had simply been an argument between them, or a dozen arguments,—as arguments do come up between friends; not as though it had served to separate for life two persons who had loved each other dearly. "It's the old story of the town mouse and the country mouse,—as old as the hills. Mice may be civil for a while, and compliment each other; but when they come to speak their minds freely, each likes his own life best."

Nov 11, 2013, 5:27pm

I've just been reading and reading without coming over here to comment.

Yes, I've noticed that... :D

I've ben debating whether it was because you were falling behind, or dashing ahead - now I know!!

I watched The Pallisers not so long ago - it's noth fascinating and exasperating, a huge undertaking very well done, yet they were forced to leave so much out!! But definitely worth watching.

To respond to your comment about Chapter 61, Grey just doesn't want that kind of unescapable connection between George and Alice. If George gets his hands on Alice's money it will give him an ongoing hold upon her and solidify the sense that Alice is committed to him - only an engagement could justify such an exchange of funds (even George is embarrassed by it).

If Alice marries Grey her fortune will come to him anyway (this was before the Married Woman's Property Act), and so she will "pay him"; if she won't, then he will be compelled to allow her to repay him in actuality, however little he wants to, because a financial debt between a man and a woman not connected by blood or marriage is unacceptable.

Chapter 63

I agree with you; I never get to a point of feeling any more comfortable or resigned about that situation.

Chapter 58

Well, this is the exasperating thing about Planty Pal - he's so perfect in some ways, and so UTTERLY OBTUSE in others! :)

Nov 11, 2013, 6:13pm

I'm only up to Chapter 30 but I really find every character quite vexing in some way! Which is fine - I don't need to love everyone or be sympathetic to them all - but I think I am struggling a bit to get a sense of who and what they really are. But maybe that is part of Trollope's talent? I alternate between some sympathy and total annoyance with Alice and Glencora both. John Grey is just boring as far as I can tell. Kate reminds me of whatshername in The Portrait of a Lady who convinces Isabel to marry Osmond for her own twisted reasons, and George is almost drawn too broadly as a "bad guy" that I can't believe anyone wouldn't see through him. Or maybe I've read too many spoilers?

I am enjoying the book a lot, but find I have to put it down quite often to let my annoyance subside.

Nov 11, 2013, 7:03pm

Chapter 21

There have been several comments like this one in reference to Glencora:
Lady Glencora would, if she lived, become a Duchess...

Are we supposed to conclude that Glencora's health is delicate, or does it just reflect the higher mortality rate for women of childbearing years in that era?

Chapter 23
Possibly the most horrifying passage in the novel:

Alice Vavasor: "Sometimes I have amused myself by reading"

Jeffrey Palliser: "Ah: they never do that here. I have heard that there is a library, but the clue to it has been lost, and nobody now knows the way. I don't believe in libraries. Nobody ever goes into a library to read, any more than you would into a larder to eat. But there is this difference; --the food you consume does come out of the larders, but the books you read never come out of the libraries."

Chapter 30
In due accordance with postal regulations it reached Vavasor Hall and was delivered to Alice on the Christmas morning.

Mail delivery on Christmas day!

I just have to say that every time I read the name "Burgo Fitzgerald", P.G. Wodehouse pops into my head. His name sounds like he should be one of Bertie Wooster's pals!

Editado: Nov 11, 2013, 7:23pm

Comments! Whoo!! :)

To Chapter 30:

I really find every character quite vexing in some way!

I think that's perfectly reasonable, Katie - Trollope got progressively more interested in complex psychologies and many of his characters are a mixture of the sympathetic and the frustrating. I think he takes pains to make us understand his people, even if we don't always agree with them or approve of them - particularly Alice and Glencora.

We're getting a range of reactions here to John Grey - Jean is more sympathetic to him than Heather and me. As for George, he seems to have been determined to make secrets and keep anybody from getting close to him - I think probably he did it very well, up until recently, but then his life starts spinning out of control.

That's a very interesting take on Kate - particularly since she was first by about fifteen years! I wonder... :)

Carrie, mortality rates were much higher for everyone, but women of childbearing age were indeed at particularly high risk. No-one would simply assume that Glencora would outlive the Duke of Omnium, though there is nothing specifically wrong with her health. (I think Alice's rejection of the idea that she is "delicate" is well-founded; and of course the illness that prevents her from going to Monkshade is mostly faked.)

I don't believe in libraries.

I wouldn't marry him either.

Mail delivery on Christmas day!

No rest for the working classes!

I don't think Burgo is respectable enough to be one of Bertie's friends. They might belong to the same club, though. :)

Nov 12, 2013, 10:46am

I've just been looking for this thread, and I've found it! I read/listened to Can You Forgive Her? at the start of 2013, and am enjoying the comments here : ). One of my favourite bits from the book is from Chapter 47:

Arabella, an impressively forward thinker I thought, is a woman who knows her stuff! She determines that a woman’s best course of action is to marry young to a wealthy old man, wait out the “old,” secure the “wealthy,” and then enjoy the luxury of doing precisely as she pleases!

“Her marriage for money had been altogether successful. The nursing of old Greenow had not been very disagreeable to her, nor had it taken longer than she had anticipated. She had now got all the reward that she had ever promised herself, and she really did feel grateful to his memory. I almost think that among those plentiful tears some few drops belonged to sincerity.” (Ch 47)

I expect Trollope was having great fun here?!

Nov 12, 2013, 4:21pm

#40 "if she won't, then he will be compelled to allow her to repay him in actuality, however little he wants to, because a financial debt between a man and a woman not connected by blood or marriage is unacceptable."

Thank you, I think that was the bit I didn't understand.

#41 "But maybe that is part of Trollope's talent? I alternate between some sympathy and total annoyance with Alice and Glencora both." Katie, I don't think you're missing anything - I think that's how Trollope writes, more so towards the end of the Barsetshire novels and here perhaps than in The Warden and Barchester Towers. I agree, George was quite obviously a bad guy from the beginning, although I'd say that's not so common with Trollope. Hmmmm....

#42 Carrie, I was struck that quote in Ch 23 too!

"I just have to say that every time I read the name "Burgo Fitzgerald", P.G. Wodehouse pops into my head." Me too, me too!

#43 Re John Grey, I keep trying to figure out why I don't like him. I feel like I should like him, he's kind and patient and good, but he treats Alice like a child, someone you can't expect rational behaviour from, and in her situation that would drive me to increasingly irrational behaviour to try and provoke some sort of emotional response from him. However, I also think that if I were alive in the 19th century and had to marry someone (which as a woman, I probably would) then someone like John Grey would be my best bet (assuming I can't find a rich man who's about to die like Mrs Greenow). Now that I'm in the second half of the book Mr Palliser also sometimes seems like an option. It's a testament to Trollope's skill as an author that this book is making me consider who I would marry if I were a 19th century woman in a way that no other 19th century novel has ever done.

#44 "She determines that a woman’s best course of action is to marry young to a wealthy old man, wait out the “old,” secure the “wealthy,” and then enjoy the luxury of doing precisely as she pleases!"

And reading the book I'm almost forced to conclude she was right! Mrs Greenow is one of my favourite characters :-)

Editado: Nov 12, 2013, 5:03pm

Spoilers up to Chapter 37

I think the point is that life can be very easy if you are sufficiently thick-skinned, like Mrs Greenow; not so much so if you're emotional and/or intellectual!

he treats Alice like a child, someone you can't expect rational behaviour from, and in her situation that would drive me to increasingly irrational behaviour to try and provoke some sort of emotional response from him.

Agreed! And I've just re-found this exchange between Glencora and Alice:

    "And then I told him that I couldn't take care of the Duchess,—and he told me that I was a child."
    "He only meant that in love."

Did he?

What's really striking me this time around is the extent to which Glencora and Alice's situations echo each other - even in this. The passage I quoted above has Alice declaring that she "just can't do" the thing that Glencora has done---

    "This chiefly," said Alice, after a pause; "that I have just separated myself from a man whom I certainly did love truly, and that I cannot transfer my affections quite so quickly as that."
    As soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew that they should not have been spoken. It was exactly what Glencora had done. She had loved a man and had separated herself from him and had married another...

And we have this from Glencora about her marriage:

"I did it like a beast that is driven as its owner chooses."

And then this from Alice - again contemplating that she cannot do what Glencora has done:

Was she to give herself bodily,—body and soul, as she said aloud in her solitary agony,—to a man whom she did not love? Must she submit to his caresses,—lie on his bosom,—turn herself warmly to his kisses? "No," she said, "no,"—speaking audibly, as she walked about the room; "no;—it was not in my bargain; I never meant it."

One of the peculiar things about 19th century literature is that it was permissible to write about a woman's sexual revulsion this frankly, but not her sexual desire! And of course, we can only hear about it in theory, not in practice, so we get this from Alice in advance, rather than from Glencora after the event.

Trollope is even more frank on this subject in a later novel, The Vicar Of Bullhampton, which has as a major subplot concerning a woman being pressured into marriage with a man who repels her - it is extremely upsetting to read.

He could write these things so understandingly and perceptively---and yet---he would never, never admit that a woman might be better off just not getting married. As an author he could always wave his magic pen and conjure up a suitable alternative husband, but that's not how things were in reality. It's a rare piece of authorial dishonesty on his part.

Nov 12, 2013, 5:02pm

#45 - Heather, John Grey does treat Alice like a child, but she acts like one so often (at least as far as the part I am up to) that I am sympathetic to him ;-)

I'm up to Chapter 37. Alice has agreed -again - to marry George and almost instantly regrets it (I love how she shudders at the mere idea of his touch; she then sees all of the good bits of John Grey when he comes up to London to see her.

Nov 12, 2013, 5:06pm

Liz, that is an interesting point about Trollope's "authorial dishonesty" in seeming to understand the plight of many women at the time but refusing to condone any non-tradiitonal alternative. It must be nice to have a magic pen!

Nov 12, 2013, 5:35pm

I so agree Katie. I want to slap Alice at times. Especially her idiocy about throwing away her money on George when she knows full well he's a scum bag.

Nov 12, 2013, 6:01pm

I guess I am really struggling with reading this outside my 21st century mind set. Back in school - back when I was smart ;-) - this was never a problem for me, but I must be out of practice!

Nov 12, 2013, 9:24pm

Just dropping in to say I'm joining in, although you all are very far ahead of me. I will probably catch up, though.

Nov 12, 2013, 9:26pm

Welcome, Anne! You're not the only one who's just starting - I'm hoping we'll hear from Donna and Bonnie.

Editado: Nov 13, 2013, 9:32am

#46 Liz, very interesting comments about Alice and Glencora

#47 Katie, I think a lot of the other characters in the book would agree with you, but whilst I agree that Alice makes some bad decisions really bad decisions, I don't think these are decisions she's taken lightly and she's prepared to accept the consequences of her decisions.

Chapter 35 I think she's wrong to think marriage to George will work if she only feels warm affection for him rather than passion but I can understand her thinking that she could be useful to George and his career, but George doesn't seem to have read the part of her letter that explains she cannot feel passion for him

Nov 13, 2013, 6:14am

#49 But by Alice's values, throwing her money away on George (which I agree she is) is keeping her promise and therefore honourable. So again, I don't see that as Alice behaving like a child.

Counter-arguments on both points welcome :-)

Nov 13, 2013, 9:59am

Spoilers ahead for Volume I, Chapters 1 - 40

Whew! I made it to the end of Volume I! I have gotten caught up in this book more so than the earlier ones we have read. Maybe because we are following the love trials of three women, although I'm not sure Arabella Greenow is having problems. I think she is enjoying her little cat and mouse (mice) game with Mr. Cheeseacre and Cpt. Bellfield. Her Saturday night dinner with the two gentlemen was a nice light touch to end this part of the book.

But back to the beginning...

Liz, I appreciate the background you've provided and the excellent choice of quotes. Reading through this thread has been a good review.

I've also enjoyed all the questions and comments from other participants. Several of us seem to be at about the same point in the book with Heather being the star pupil and racing on ahead of us. ;-)

It has been fun reading the comments about George. At first he seemed just a bit of a rascal to me but as Heather pointed out in #34 with her quote from Ch. 30, he gets worse as the book moves on...the 'women are fools' comment made me see red and George moved on in my mind from rascal to rat!

#37: Thank you, Jean, for pointing out that there is a Pallisar series. I will look for that when we finish reading the books.

#42: Carrie, I loved that exchange about reading between Alice and Jeffrey Pallisar. I'm not sure he is good marriage material, but he's more amusing that George and John Grey put together!

I know we are past this point but I loved when Alice started "learning toward the light" during her visit to Matching Priory in Chapters 22 - 28. It was interesting to see her friendship with Lady Glencora develop so quickly. Similar circumstances I suppose, although Glencora was living out the nightmare that Alice has dodged (so far) with her waffling.

We learn that Plantagenet is dull, dull, dull and works late hours. No wonder there is no cradle for Glencora to rock.

In Ch. 24 what are we to make of the socially awkward Mr. Bott who whispers in P's ear and tries to corner both Alice and Glencora at every opportunity? One of my favorite LOL parts was when his shooting entertainment came to an abrupt halt because "...on the first day he shot the keeper, and on the second very nearly shot the Duke." There has been a lot of humor in a book that is about broken hearts.

I do have a question... Chapter 32
Trollope takes us through Alice's third engagement (!) by sharing the letters that Alice and George write to each other. George also writes a letter to Kate at the same time he answers Alice's acceptance letter at the end of the chapter. First of all, I wonder what he writes to Kate in that letter. Secondly, why doesn't Trollope reveal it to us? He shares almost everything else with the readers.

Nov 13, 2013, 12:42pm

>53 souloftherose: and 54: Heather, I think maybe what I am struggling with is that there is very little about what drives George. Why are Kate and Alice so amenable to helping him into Parliament? I don't see in him any passion for making a difference or shaking things up that would inspire the generosity of the two women. It seems like they have an impression of what he would do or the kind of Member he would be, but it doesn't seem to be backed up by reality. Have I missed something?

>55 Donna828:: Donna, I had the same questions about George's letter to Kate. To me, it seemed almost ominous.

Editado: Nov 13, 2013, 5:46pm

Wow! An explosion of comments! Excellent!!

Welcome, Donna, and thank you very much for your contribution.

With regard to George, I think we have to distinguish very carefully between what we as readers know about him, and what Kate and Alice know - or think they know. We've established that he's role-player who never really shows himself to anyone and while his life is still under control he hides the worst aspects of himself from the girls.

Donna, this speaks to your question about the letter (in Chapter 32) that is not reported to us. I think the fact that we are not allowed to see it, considering all that has been shared with us, is a measure of how shocking the contents are, and how deeply ashamed Kate is that George could have written such a letter. I think this is where Kate sees the real George for the first time.

Now, as for Parliament---

(I have to dash ahead a bit for this, though it's not really spoilers.)

Chapter 45

Ah, my male friend and reader, who earnest thy bread, perhaps, as a country vicar; or sittest, may-be, at some weary desk in Somerset House; or who, perhaps, rulest the yard behind the Cheapside counter, hast thou never stood there and longed,—hast thou never confessed, when standing there, that Fate has been unkind to thee in denying thee the one thing that thou hast wanted? I have done so; and as my slow steps have led me up that more than royal staircase, to those passages and halls which require the hallowing breath of centuries to give them the glory in British eyes which they shall one day possess, I have told myself, in anger and in grief, that to die and not to have won that right of way, though but for a session,—not to have passed by the narrow entrance through those lamps,—is to die and not to have done that which it most becomes an Englishman to have achieved...

But though England does not send thither none but her best men, the best of her Commoners do find their way there. It is the highest and most legitimate pride of an Englishman to have the letters M.P. written after his name. No selection from the alphabet, no doctorship, no fellowship, be it of ever so learned or royal a society, no knightship,—not though it be of the Garter,—confers so fair an honour. Mr. Bott was right when he declared that this country is governed from between the walls of that House, though the truth was almost defiled by the lips which uttered it. He might have added that from thence flow the waters of the world's progress,—the fullest fountain of advancing civilisation.

With respect to one of the earlier novels, we touched on the fact that the supreme unachieved ambition of Trollope's life was to be a Member of Parliament. He unsuccessfully contested an election in 1868 (three years after Can You Forgive Her? was published) - it was an extremely messy business in which, ironically enough, Trollope found himself on the receiving end of the kind of bribery and corruption we hear about with respect to George's election. The borough for which he stood was actually abolished a few years later as a consequence of the inquiry that followed the election. Trollope was so hurt and disillusioned by the whole thing that he never touched politics again except in his novels.

What we see in Can You Forgive Her? is that he had a kind of "split view" of the political process - on one hand a passionate, and perhaps rather romanticised, belief in the supremacy of the British political system (which he expresses through Planty Pal: "To you the British House of Commons is everything." "Yes;—everything," said Mr. Palliser with unwonted enthusiasm;—"everything, everything. That and the Constitution are everything."), and on the other a firm grasp of the often nasty / boring / bewildering nature of politics in practice. (He makes the point that any system that can allow Mr Bott to become an MP must have something wrong with it!)

We see this through George Vavasor: even he feels moved by the experience of actually entering the House of Commons - but then he gets a good look at how it actually works - or doesn't - and is immediately bitterly disillusioned.

It is important to remember that at the time, on top of the expense of contesting an election, MPs did not receive a salary. Trollope was in fact against such a payment, because he thought that only men who considered the honour enough ought to be in the House of Commons - but of course it meant that a lot of good men just couldn't afford to be in Parliament, or got horribly into debt trying. (Trollope's later political novels deal with this.) Salaries for MPs as MPs were not introduced until early in the 20th century.

That said, being an MP was a gateway to a lot of other opportunities and perks, which is one of the reasons George is so keen on it. MPs got to do paid committee work, carry out consultancies, sit on Boards of Directors for companies, etc., and often made an extremely good living out of the fact of being an MP, their parliamentary work (if any) aside.

So - to get back to the point - George wants to be an MP because it will "raise him up" socially, because it will open up business opportunities he wouldn't have otherwise - and because he likes a fight.

Kate and Alice, on the other hand, share Trollope's more romanticised view of politics: they think mostly about the honour involved in being an MP. Alice, in addition, thinks about the gaining of power and influence and being a part of the government of the nation. The girls want these things altruistically for George, but they also want to share vicariously in his political life; Alice also needs to feel herself connected to something meaningful.

Nov 14, 2013, 10:42am

>57 lyzard:: Thanks, Liz. That is fascinating background and your points make a lot of sense.

I read nearly non-stop on my 3+ hour flight yesterday and found the narrative picking up considerably. I'm really enjoying the book - and this group read! - a lot.

Nov 14, 2013, 4:08pm

#55 Donna, I didn't pick up on the missing letter when I was reading it so thank you for mentioning that.

#56 Why are Kate and Alice so amenable to helping him into Parliament? Katie, I was going to reply to say I wasn't really sure why either, but I've been saved by Liz - thanks Liz!

I've finished the book and for now, will just say that it's my favourite book of the year so far. Will come back with more comments later when I have chewed things over for a bit. For now, I am feeling completely bereft by the book ending.

Nov 15, 2013, 8:11am

Finally got here! Just starting my reading today but will do my best to catch up.

I'm really lookng forward to this book and thread.

Nov 15, 2013, 11:05am

I'm at Chapter 57. Boy, is this getting good...

Nov 15, 2013, 12:10pm

I'm up to Chapter 44.

What's up with all the suicidal thoughts? First we had Burgo contemplating suicide, then Alice thinking of several methods that she'd prefer to marrying George, and now it's crossed George's mind as a way out of the hole he's dug for himself.

Editado: Nov 15, 2013, 7:59pm

I'm on chapter 43 and had the same question about why we didn't see that letter and why oh why Kate and Alice seem to be willing to go broke for the sake of George, whom they now both regard as less than stellar! even though Alice is (sort of) engaged to him. In chapter 34 the light finally goes off for Alice after talking to her father:

“Was her cousin, her betrothed as she now must regard him, the worthless, heartless, mercenary rascal which her father painted him?”

Hmmm, it certainly seems so. I am really enjoying the book and looking more and more forward to reading it although my reading time has been somewhat limited. I think in George, Trollope has created one of his most complicated characters. Anything to say about that Liz? Thank you once again for all your insight.

Also, didn't George sign a note for the money that went to Burgo and isn't that going to come due to him at some point? I'm thinking of the way Mark Robarts got in trouble in Framley Parsonage.

Nov 18, 2013, 12:45pm

Finished! Heather, thanks for the cartoon in #59. I feel much the same way. I have pretty much devoted the last week to Trollope. As I stated in my review, the main drawback to the book (for me) was the length. Oh, I enjoyed it...every little bit of it....but it did go on and on. I'm wondering how many months the serialization lasted. Liz, you may have already told us this. Were all his books serialized?

>63 brenzi:: Bonnie, I so agree with you on the complexity of George. I knew he was selfish and greedy but I was surprised with his thoughts about



My review is on the book's page and also right here on my thread.

Nov 18, 2013, 1:09pm

Chapter 52 spoiler

Fight! Reading Trollope is beginning to resemble watching a hockey game. You know a fight will break out at some point. It's just a matter of when!

>64 Donna828: His thoughts are disturbing, aren't they? With each chapter I fear more and more for poor Alice, and now I'm beginning to worry about Kate, too!

Nov 18, 2013, 1:18pm


you can do a spoiler by typing (spoiler) and (/spoiler) only with the arrows.


Nov 18, 2013, 1:19pm

I still don't see why so many people don't like John Gray. Sigh. I really like him.

Nov 18, 2013, 3:08pm

nor was there that of hero worship that should be in a woman's heart when she gives it away

Wow. Giggle. One of the major pointers of how different that world was than ours.

Editado: Nov 18, 2013, 3:43pm

Hello, all! Sorry for the thread neglect. Mostly I've been dealing with a domestic crisis (i.e. roof leakage), plus I promised Madeline I'd set up our tutored read thread. Nothing like a little insane over-commitment! :)


Well done, Heather! I look forward to reading your review.


Welcome, Gail! Don't worry about being behind - just continue at your own pace and add comments about whatever you like.


Chapter 44

Carrie, I think we need to separate Alice's thoughts from the men's - basically hers boil down to 'anything would be better than marrying George'; theirs are coming from a slightly different place and are more indicative of the social structures and mores of the time. What we see here is a reflective of the gulf between 'gentlemen' and 'non-gentlemen' and how there was no going back once you'd slipped outside that realm. Furthermore, this was a time when suicide was considered a viable course of action if you were guilty of dishonourable behaviour.

Even so, I don't think the two men are coming at this from the same mindset, though in different ways it does indicate their awareness of how close to the edge of the social precipice they are. With Burgo it's a reflection of how far down the wrong path he's gone, whereas with George I think it reflects an innate tendency towards extremism and violence.


Bonnie, George puts me in mind of what you often hear around murder cases, with people at first unable to believe something has happened, but then as the investigation does on it becomes at matter of 'How did we not see this coming?' The disturbing thing here is that Trollope shows us both faces of George, whereas most of the people who think they know him only see one.

Chapter 43

Yes, George has signed a note just like Mark Robarts did (although with a much better idea of what he's getting himself into).


Good work, Donna!

I think it is important to understand the reading habits of the time. Books like this were best compared to a long-running TV series; people read them part by part, with the individual numbers being passed around amongst the members of a household, or read out loud in the evening to a group. Instalments were published monthly (usually), so people did have time to absorb a lot of characters and a complex plot, and there would be ongoing discussions about the plot and characters and how things were going to turn out.

We probably do ourselves and the novel a bit of an injustice when we rush through it over a matter of days, although personally I think having to wait a month for the next part would have driven me nuts. :)

Not all of Trollope's novels were serialised - it was a mark of success when the magazines wanted your work, but writing for serialisation was a significant challenge in terms of how many chapters and how long each issue had to be - and in addition to these lengthy, serialised works, Trollope wrote many shorter ones of different style and subject matter. Can You Forgive Her? was serialised over the course of twenty months, from January 1864 to August 1865.


FYI, the next book in the series has a duel in it... :)


I guess it boils down to a lack of fundamental consideration. If he didn't understand Alice, I'd be more tolerant of him - but clearly he understands her perfectly and yet has no intention of budging an inch from what he wants, despite all his speeches about how much he loves her. Some of the quotes that Heather has highlighted get to the heart of it, particularly this one:

When two came together, why should not each yield something, and each claim something?

But instead we get this:

Chapter 74

"I have a right to demand your hand. My happiness requires it, and I have a right to expect your compliance. I do demand it."

If I were Alice, I'd've broken it off again! :D

But seriously, I can't feel much hope about a marriage that starts like this:

    "Alice," he said, as he pressed her close with his arm, "the battle is over now, and I have won it."
    "You win everything,—always," she said, whispering to him, as she still shrank from his embrace.


And while Alice does eventually get what she wants, the way she gets it is hardly encouraging. Is there anything more exasperating in a relationship than "don't listen to your partner, listen to your friends"? :)



Perhaps the most exasperating thing about Trollope is how he insists his women have to "worship" his men, after he goes to such lengths to demonstrate how much his men don't deserve it! :)

Nov 19, 2013, 2:37pm

#64 & 69 personally I think having to wait a month for the next part would have driven me nuts. :) Oh, me too! Me too!

I think I must have a blind spot when it comes to 19th century fiction - I don't often think of them as being too long, and in this case, I didn't think it was too long at all. I can't think of a single bit of the book that I would be happy to leave out.... well, maybe the hunting chapters, but even those show us something about George and Burgo's characters....

I guess I just like big books (...and I cannot lie...)

#67 I still don't see why so many people don't like John Gray

Possible spoilers I came to admire his tenacity over the course of the novel and the fact that he didn't write Alice off as a bad woman because she broke the moral code by jilting him. But the points Liz makes in her post still bother me. Strangely, they bother me more with John Grey (because he understands Alice and is otherwise good and considerate) than they do with someone like George.

Nov 19, 2013, 2:37pm

#69 :-( for the leaking roof

Nov 19, 2013, 4:28pm

I literally just finished it and enjoyed it very much. But Alice feeling that she didn't deserve to be forgiven for jilting her lover just about drove me nuts. I mean, really, were women this insecure. I thought that was overkill because it seemed to go on forever, this idea that she didn't deserve to be forgiven.

Editado: Nov 19, 2013, 4:49pm

Well done, Bonnie!

I think that Alice is suffering a very Victorian form of guilt, over insisting that her needs are as important as his instead of just . But there is definitely a masochistic tendency there, too.

It's also possible that subsconsciously it's another way of holding John Grey off.

Nov 19, 2013, 4:49pm


Tree branch down, cracked roof tiles, flooded bathroom and kitchen...

OH JOY!!!!!

They wonder why I retreat into books...

Nov 19, 2013, 5:49pm

RE John Gray: sure, some of the things he says makes me nuts. But he sticks by her, ina society where women weren't allowed to deviate an inch from what society says is acceptable.

I think any other man would have thrown up his hands and dumped her (and I think at times she deserved to be dumped). As someone else said, her insistence on not being worthy drove me nuts.

Especially when we compare what she did to how close Lady Glen came to ruin. Lady Glen has no trouble whatsoever of forgiving herself.

So I admire John Gray for seeing Alice worthy despite her own view of things. He caught her and saved her from ruin and wasn't going to let her go.

And I don't see Alice as finally agreeing to marry him if he hadn't been so insistent on his deserving of a reward for sticking with her.

I finished the book this morning. A lot of my views are more than likely colored by the fact I've read the series before (twice before, I think) so I see John and Alice down the line, so to speak.

Nov 19, 2013, 6:23pm

>75 majkia: Right, Lady Glencora seemed to represent a totally radical POV. I'm not well-informed on the subject but I daresay that her fortune now belonged to Plantagenet, so if she had actually carried out her idea of running off with Burgo they would've been penniless together. She's a bit of a loose cannon especially compared to Alice who doesn't think she's deserving of anything much at all.

>74 lyzard: I'm sorry to hear of your problems Liz. You've got an awful lot on your plate.

Nov 19, 2013, 8:49pm

It isn't specified how Glencora's fortune was settled at the time of the marriage - although there are various moments when she thinks balefully, "Well, that's really my money..." When a bride brought a large fortune it was customary for a significant portion to be settled upon her personally (although this could be complicated by provisions for children). This is what Burgo and Lady Monk are speculating about: how much will Glencora get to keep if she bolts?

Oh, Bonnie, I can't tell you how good it feels to be back at work, where I can concentrate on my reading and get some rest! :D

Nov 20, 2013, 6:03pm

I finished a few days ago. I had a lot of fun with the book, but one question lingers: why did Lady Monk want to help Burgo run away with Glencora? She seemed so intent on breaking up the Pallisers marriage. I kept expecting to get some rationale for it. Did I miss something?

Nov 20, 2013, 9:00pm

It's not that she's intent upon breaking up their marriage - rather, she's overly attached to Burgo and ruthless enough, and perhaps spiteful enough, not to care that it would be breaking up a marriage. She's only thinking about what's good for Burgo.

Nov 21, 2013, 11:32pm

I've been reading and reading and am almost, but not quite, done. I'm finding Can You Forgive Her? to be both more gripping than I expected and more maddening. While in the Barsetshire novels I've always sort of enjoyed the author's commentary and musings, here I find that I'd like to hear a lot less from Trollope! It turns out I have a lot to say about this one. (And by the way--I'm enjoying it, despite all my comments below.)

(I'm listening to this as an audiobook, so it is very difficult for me to go back and refer to specific chapters. I've read to about chapter 59, but if there are any spoilers below, they would pertain only to earlier parts of the book, around chapter 35 I think.)

I want to sympathize with Alice, but really I cannot sympathize much with her decisions. I find myself extremely irked by the condescending attitudes of both Trollope and John Grey to Alice's over-analysis of her engagement, and I sympathize in general with her process of over-thinking things, especially marriage. I also sympathize with her desire to seek more from marriage than what she is being offered. However, I am sorry to say that I find Alice's actual thoughts, motivations, and actions to be completely unpersuasive and almost as foolish as John Grey considers them to be--or maybe more so! I just wish that her thoughts were less confused and more compelling--I wonder if Trollope's own attitudes made him incapable of attributing well-conceived arguments to Alice. It almost feels like he is intentionally setting up a straw man to be able to say "See? This is what happens when we let women make their own decisions."

It also annoys me that Alice continually resorts to the idea that she will not make John Grey happy and therefore should break off the engagement. First, this strikes me as a dodge, since Alice seems to have legitimate worries that she will not be happy in the marriage, whether because she will be bored, or not have a say in anything, or not have enough of an impact on the world, or have to change her habits too much. Why not just focus openly on her own future happiness or lack thereof? And second, enough already with everyone assuming they know what will make the other person happy, despite what the other person says. Why not just believe they mean what they say? (I know, this is not unique to Alice, or this book, or to Trollope, but it especially exasperated me here.)

Still, as little convinced as I am by her reasons for breaking off her engagement to John Grey, I was even less convinced by her reasons for accepting George's renewed proposal. Her reasoning reminded me of Dorothea in Middlemarch, in that she resolved to marry not for love but in order to be helpful to a man's life work. But George is so much worse a person than poor old Casaubon.

spoilers up to chapter 54

One thing that is puzzling my 21st century (or at least late 20th century) brain: George's use of Alice's money before they are married.
On the one hand, Kate sees this as a step so awful and egregious that it starts to erode her heretofore unshakeable opinion of George (whereas nowadays, it seems that if two people plan on marrying, some advance commingling of funds in the service of shared purposes might be reasonable). What makes this specifically so outrageous?
And on the other hand, Alice feels under some sort of obligation to keep on giving George as much money as he wants even after he has insulted her and they have effectively parted. Why? Because she promised and it is a matter of honor? Is promising the use of her money more sacred of an obligation than promising to marry someone? It seems like it would be just the opposite.

Editado: Nov 22, 2013, 2:55am

Those are excellent comments and questions, Anne!

I think the issue with Alice is that at this time women were not supposed to put their own needs, or their own happiness, ahead of the needs and happiness of others. To us it seems reasonable that she might say, "If I'm not happy, then I can't make you happy", but to the Victorians the correct response was, "As long as you are happy, I will be happy" (or even, "it doesn't matter if I'm happy"). I think Alice is guiltily aware that she is demanding more from her marriage than she is supposed to, and so tends to frame her thoughts in terms of being unworthy of Grey.

It almost feels like he is intentionally setting up a straw man to be able to say "See? This is what happens when we let women make their own decisions."

I think you're absolutely right! - and this bit makes me scream:

Chapter 75

And there must now, she acknowledged, be an end to her pride,—to that pride which had hitherto taught her to think that she could more wisely follow her own guidance than that of any other who might claim to guide her.

Whose judgement exactly is Alice supposed to be relying on, other than her own? Her mother's dead, her father has abrogated responsibility, she has no siblings. Lady Midlothian's, after what happened to Glencora? Hardly. She did listen to her cousins, and look what came of that. John Grey's? Not before they were married, surely? After all, no-one would suggest she should rely on George's judgement just because she was engaged to him.

But God forbid she should think for herself instead of listening to "any other".

To Chapter 54

It boils down to Alice wanting to be involved in something meaningful; things that might fall into that category can only be had vicariously, through attachment to a man. Kate can live vicariously through George because he's her brother, but cousinship isn't close enough - Alice can only have those things through marriage.

Alice herself doesn't think she's getting a particularly good bargain, just that it would be better than life in Cambridgeshire. :)

As for the money--- There was, in my opinion, quite a lot of hypocrisy around this issue, since men openly and unapologetically married for money (even Plantagenet, who is held up as a moral example through a lot of this series, is frank about needing a fortune as large as Glencora's to fund his intended political career), but the dogma was that a man did not take money from a woman under any circumstances.

George taking money from Alice without being married to her violates any number of social codes and writes him off once and for all as "no gentleman". (It's self-defeating on his part, too, because if the people he's trying to get in with hear of it he will be utterly ruined.)

Alice, on the other hand, sticks to her guns about giving George money because she is painfully conscious that she's not planning on giving him anything else. They are still technically engaged when she's giving it voluntarily, and uses it as a means of getting rid of George after he has threatened her. Ironically, the more George takes from her, the wider the gulf between them becomes.

Nov 22, 2013, 9:53am

And of course it is nicely ironic that what Alice most wants, involvement in something meaningful, falls into her arms once she finally settles on John Gray, and he is talked into entering parliament by Planty Pall.

Nov 22, 2013, 12:02pm

I found Alice's dithering to be the most annoying part of the book. Really were women held in such low regard that they didn't deserve any happiness? This is confounding but like Anne I immediately thought of Dorothea Brooks. Interestingly, I just finished a Barbara Pym novel set in the 70s that displayed the same sort of confounding woman. In this case she was married but the same dithering tactics because of a man were on full display. I have a hard time tolerating a woman like this but I enjoyed both novels so I'm not sure what that says about me haha.

At the time that Trollope wrote, did women readers accept this picture of their sex as quite acceptable?

Editado: Nov 22, 2013, 4:57pm


Yes, but he wouldn't budge an inch or even listen when she was saying it.

Marge Simpson: "You listen to your friends, but you never listen to me."
Homer Simpson: "Aw, that's great, honey!"



It wasn't that they didn't deserve happiness, it was that a woman was supposed to find her happiness in serving others, not demand it on her own account. She shouldn't have separate happiness, if I can put it like that. There was a lot of pressure on women to be self-sacrificing, and to be guided in their actions by what other people wanted. To do otherwise was to be selfish and "unwomanly" (a favourite word of Trollope's).

(Earlier I mentioned The Vicar Of Bullhampton, in which a woman is pressured into making a distasteful marriage: there, her refusal is considered selfish and unreasonable, and she is constantly being blamed and criticised for making the man unhappy.)

I would suggest that the language in which Trollope phrases Alice's struggles and her criticism of herself is exaggerated, albeit reflective of her psychology, but that her view of herself as a "transgressor" would have been shared by readers at the time.

Editado: Nov 23, 2013, 2:06pm

Not got much to add but just wanted to say I am still here and enjoying the comments.

Editado: Nov 23, 2013, 2:22pm

#82 "At the time that Trollope wrote, did women readers accept this picture of their sex as quite accetable?"

Bonnie, your comment reminded me of a passage earlier in the novel. From Chapter 11

What should a woman do with her life? There had arisen round her a flock of learned ladies asking that question, to whom it seems that the proper answer has never yet occurred. Fall in love, marry the man, have two children, and live happy ever afterwards.

From what I've read, (Emma Donoghue's The Sealed Letter and Kate Summerscale's Mrs Robinson's Disgrace) there was a feminist movement which started in the late 1850s which I think is what Trollope is referring to in the passage above. But I think Trollope's viewpoint remained the prevailing one for some time.

Nov 23, 2013, 2:28pm

I think he's rather strident in this novel because the proto-Women's Movement was starting to gain momentum. And certainly opportunities for women besides marriage began to open up during the second half of the century, though it was never easy.

Nov 23, 2013, 10:54pm

I did feel sorry for Alice because she knew the only way she could achieve her aspiration to make a difference in the world she lived in would have to come through a man. Of course, we now know she put her money on the wrong man! I hope John Grey is fulfilled serving in Parliament because we know that is the way to Alice's heart.

I've always liked this quote by Joseph Conrad:

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.”

Nov 24, 2013, 12:13am

Liz - A laggard in most things, I have finally cleared away some of my reading in order to make a start this Sunday and possibly leaving just enough time to complete this November.

Will only skim until I am far enough in not to spoil the story for meself.

First chapter is everything that makes Trollope a wonderfully timeless author.

Nov 24, 2013, 4:42pm


Nice quote in context, Donna!


Delighted to have you here, Paul! Don't worry about being a bit behind, and please do add any other comments or questions to the thread. It will be interesting to get a male perspective on all this female angst. :)

Dic 3, 2013, 4:54pm

Oops, sorry, gang! - meant to have a catch-up over the weekend, but... Well, welcome to Wednesday!

I just wanted to check in and see if we still had people reading?

Dic 4, 2013, 2:01am

I'm at chapter 66 in my audiobook so still a little way to go.

Dic 4, 2013, 2:11pm

Thanks, Kerry! Please add some comments when you're done.

Dic 15, 2013, 12:09pm

I've finished.

This was the first time I've read this story and I enjoyed it very much. George was a wonderful villain - do we hear anything more of him? - and I was so relieved that John Gray prevented Alice from making herself (and him) unhappy even if I didn't quite approve of his 'masterfulness'. The light relief provided by Aunt Greenow was lovely, too.

I have now reached the age when I would be more likely to follow Aunt Greenow's opinions and methods than Alice's. Had I read this as a young thing I would have been much more in sympathy with Alice but now I find her angst-ridden dithery-ness quite tiresome. I know she was constrained by the attitudes of the time and I found your reminder of how seriously an engagement was regarded very useful in understanding the story, Liz, but she really carried it too far.

I had a certain amount of sympathy for Lady Glencora, but not much! I'm definitely past the age of thinking the world well lost for love, if I ever did.

Dic 17, 2013, 3:13pm

#94 I also loved the relief provided by Arabella Greenow. A woman with an attitude!

Dic 17, 2013, 9:16pm

Finished this at the end of November and just stopping by to add my few comments.


The title could be applied to Kate (deceiving her much-loved cousin) and to Cora--good gracious, nearly doing the nasty and bringing about her own social ruin--as well as to Alice. This underlying theme helped to tie the novel together, I thought.

Trollope, while certainly not cutting women any slack, wasn't kind to most of the males, either.
We have the beastly, violent, self-centered George, the foolish wastrel Burgo, neither of whom would hesitate to bring desolation to the women they're pursuing; the dead-lazy uncle who's quite funny as he bemoans the fate that forces him to work a few hours a week; and Aunt Greenow's two silly suitors.

As mentioned by others, the only character with sense is Mrs. Greenow,who knows exactly what's going on and how to get precisely what she wants. John Gray is almost impossibly wonderful.

All that said, I loved reading this book. Out of the six A.T. books I've read, this is second only to Barchester Towers as a favorite.

Dic 17, 2013, 10:03pm

>96 bohemima: Out of the six A.T. books I've read, this is second only to Barchester Towers as a favorite.


Dic 18, 2013, 4:44pm

Thank you, Kerry and Gail, for stopping by to add your comments!

Editado: Ene 6, 2014, 8:36am

I finally finished Can You Forgive Her? and wanted to stop by and add some comments. I really enjoyed this Trollope novel, in fact I think I liked it only slightly less than The Warden which was my favorite. The comparison of the three main female characters and their different stages of love life was fascinating.

I was surprised by just how nasty George turned out to be. I think he is the most evil Trollope character we've encountered thus far.

I think my favorite character was actually Lady Glencora if you can believe it. I very much sympathized that she had been convinced to marry a man she didn't love because of her station in life and once married found her husband to have no interest in her apart from using her money. Old Planty was as dull as dishwater and about as dim right up until the pivotal scene when he "rescues" Cora from herself. I thought it was great that Planty was forced to give up something he loved in order to try to make his wife happy....I felt that was a fair payback.

Aunt Greenow and her ridiculous suitors were fun too.

As for Alice and John Grey, I did feel some sympathy for each at times, but both could wear on my nerves as well.

As always, Trollope writes very realistic and interesting characters!

Ene 6, 2014, 8:36am

#99 by Cobscook> I adore Glencora, so I am totally with you.

Ene 6, 2014, 9:05am

>99 Cobscook: I agree with you about George and Glencora. George isn't a person I'd like to meet in a dark alley, and Glencora is my favorite character in the novel, too.

Ene 6, 2014, 3:21pm

George seemed to me to have a touch of Heathcliffe about him. It was partly the setting of the Vavasor house, far far from London up in Cumbria surrounded by the fells and wild weather reminiscent of the Bronte Yorkshire moors - with characters going out for long walks in the hills, and the violent argument between George and Alice happening out on one such walk. Wuthering Heights was published quite a bit earlier though, so I don't know how consciously Trollope was making such allusions. That setting (for part of the story at least) and George's violent unpleasantness were some of what made the book for me feel very different from the Barchester novels, which are the only Trollopes I've read up till now.

Ene 6, 2014, 5:38pm

I too finally finished CYFH on Saturday. It took me a while to get back into it but it hooked me about half way through. I particularly enjoyed Aunt Greenow and the way she managed her suitors.

More broadly I thought Trollope was sympathetic to women's generally limited options in life and although the question in the title is clearly aimed at Alice, it could equally apply to Glencora, Kate and even Aunt Greenow in different ways. But Alice vacillates so much that she lost all my sympathy and Kate didn't have much about her either.

I felt sorry for Plantaganet and for Glencora - both were trapped in society's/others' expectations of them - but George was a true villain and I could love to hate him!

I am certainly looking forward to picking up the next instalments once again, though will space them out through the year so may not keep up with others.

Happy New Year!

Ene 6, 2014, 5:42pm

Thank you for adding these comments. for George, I would have to argue that he is a very urban character, though, and indicative of Trollope turning more towards city / political life in the Palliser novels, and away from the country / religious life of the Barchester novels. You can't imagine George living at Vavasor Hall, any more than you can imagine Heathcliff living in London. George's violence seems to be Trollope's way of saying, "We're not in Kansas any more". :)

Cora's situation is extremely painful and I find it fascinating that in so many ways, Trollope is willing at this point to have Plantagenet in the wrong. It's also remarkable that Cora was never blindly in love with Burgo: she knows what he is, and knows what risk she would have been taking in marrying him (and knows what being his mistress would mean, too); yet her pragmatic argument that if he had had enough money, he might have been content and kind and loving, leaves open the possibility that she could have been happy with him, in her own way. No wonder that wound never heals.

Ene 6, 2014, 8:01pm

I loved that Cora was so sarcastic and that she saw her own faults clearly. I think she could be happy even with dear old Planty if he could just bring himself to show so emotions once in awhile. Maybe, now that he has his heir, he will do that. I hope we get to see what happens with them in the other Palliser novels.

Sep 23, 2017, 1:11am