I was not really planning to write about Doctor Thorne for five full days. Because I have so much Trollope ahead of me, or so I hope, and because Trollope novels are not so extraordinarily varied, I should hoard my ideas. Or, on the contrary, I should feel reassured that Trollope alone will provide an endless source of material for Wuthering Expectations. Just wait until you see my ten part series on Orley Farm. At least three of the posts will be on the fictional treatment and metaphorical meaning of 19th century manuring techniques.
Still, I am wondering what to make of a couple of passages, something following from that outstanding chapter I wrote about yesterday. The next chapter is titled “What the World Says about Blood,” and it states the central ethical problem of Doctor Thorne as clearly as I can remember. The speaker is our hero Frank’s father; Porlock is a cousin who is heir to an earldom:
"You must take it as you find it, Frank. I only say that such is the fact. If Porlock were to marry the daughter of a shoeblack, without a farthing, he would make a mésalliance; but if the daughter of the shoeblack had half a million of money, nobody would dream of saying so. I am stating no opinion of my own: I am only giving you the world's opinion."
I have no doubt that Trollope is observing his world accurately. The old order is not collapsing, but is already gone, and only the ideology of blood and breeding remains. Trollope’s characters must wend their way through the obsolete cant. Poor Augusta is trapped in it; our protagonists defeat it.
What I wonder is, did Trollope’s readers, his contemporaries, agree with this? Did they argue with it? Were they challenged by Trollope – were they surprised into sympathy, or was this more of a pander – you and I, dear readers, have moved beyond those snobby dinosaurs who are bothered by this sort of thing.
In the end, the young couple succeed ethically – love trumps money – and receive their novelistic rewards. Young Frank Gresham will not have to sully himself by becoming an attorney or managing a farm (heaven forbid if he actually did any farming!). He will be able to devote his time to his hounds and horses and perhaps a dab of politics. Frank has matured admirably – I saw it with my own eyes, so to speak, by reading Doctor Thorne – but I have no idea what value that brings. He ends the novel a better person. And then?
Doctor Thorne features a stonemason who becomes a wealthy railroad builder, a baronet, and even, very briefly, a member of Parliament. He and his son do not become better people. This is his widow:
"This comes of their barro-niting," she continued. "If they had let him alone, he would have been here now, and so would the other one. Why did they do it? why did they do it? Ah, doctor! people such as us should never meddle with them above us. See what has come of it; see what has come of it!"
I see no reason to take Lady Scatcherd’s lament at face value, as a deliberate claim by Trollope that folks shouldn’t get above their raisin’, but I do wonder how far Trollope’s class criticisms go, if the queen can marry a jockey. Not that I want Trollope to be a radical. Rohan Maitzen describes his stories as “the small-scale battles of everyday life,” and I only wish that every time and place had a military historian as skilled as Anthony Trollope.