Can You Forgive Her?

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

Introduced by George Hepburn OBE, who stayed in Hay when he walked the Offa’s Dyke Path. Until recently he was chair of trustees for Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. 

My previous encounter with Trollope was not portentous. Despite being an aficionado of the Church of England, I have found his Barchester books about life in the cathedral close stodgy.

My eye was caught by the look and feel of a substantial hardback volume in an elegant dust jacket in the Everyman Library. The typeface looks like a facsimile of the original edition. It was begging to be lifted off an unloved bookshelf in Booth’s.

The great enjoyment of this voluminous bookshop is to wander around looking about until something catches your eye. Trollope was furthest from my mind as I walked in the door. Browse expectantly and you are rarely disappointed.

This is the first of Trollope’s longest series of novels loosely based on the life and times of the liberal aristocratic Pallister family in the 1850s. I was looking for a worthy  blockbuster to take to the Hebrides but found I skipped through all 800s pages with delight, wanting to know what happened next, and got to the end before I knew it. Theres a good story line told in an easy way for the original serialisation in a newspaper.

Its not as finely drawn as Dickens or as profound as Elliot and with just a touch of Jane Austin. The good looking men are bounders and the decent ones rather dull. Our heroine keeps changing her mind about who to hitch up with, which provides the title line, and all comes well in the end.

The balls and the hunts are vividly described as if Trollope was there himself – which he probably was. The politics of the mid century ring true. Ministries come and go as ministers fall out with each other.

At each turn of the tale letters are written (telephone being yet to be invented)  and often included in their entirety. What a skill there once was in laying out ones heart in a letter. At one point, a letter is dispatched from London on Christmas Eve to be laying on the breakfast table in Westmoreland on Christmas morning.

And all the while, the characters weigh up whether to marry for love or money and Trollope describes their anguish with such feeling and delicacy. I can understand why Harold MacMillan always kept a Trollope by the bed.  I have requested the next two volumes for my birthday, in the same Everyman edition of course.

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