From the group discussion about chapters 37 - 42:
February 13, 2000
Re: Framley Parsonage: Mr and Mrs Thorne: 'How to Write a Love Letter'
Here I go again on Dr Thorne and Miss Dunstable.
I thought I'd devote a separate posting to the subject of the marriage of Dr Thorne and Miss Dunstable. I know we've hashed around this but now the marriage is upon us I want to try once again, this time talking about their wonderful letter exchange.
When I read Framley Parsonage for the first time, I was at first dismayed when suddenly (as it seemed then wholly unprepared for and still seems a opportunistic thought) Mary about 1/2 way through _Framley Parsonage_ begins to hint how suitable Miss Dunstable would be for her uncle (Penguin FP, ed DSkilton, Ch 28, pp 341-42). Though Dr Thorne escaped in embarrassment, the emotional nature of the scene told me it was not a joke and a marriage was in the offing.
It seemed to be a betrayal of Dr Henry Thorne and Miss Martha Dunstable as I understood their natures and probable destinies in Dr Thorne. For me one of the most memorable passages in Dr Thorne had been the conclusion of its prologue where we are told how the young woman he loved had not loved him enough to understand what he had gone through and the hero's role he had played in the murder of his brother, and had given him up because he had (forsooth) lost respectability in the eyes of the 'world':
In those stormy days of the trial she told Dr Thorne, that perhaps it would be wise that they should not see each other any more. Dr Thorne, so counselled, at such a moment -- so informed then, when he most required comfort fomr his love at once swore loudly that he agreed with her. He rushed forth with a bursting hart, and said to himself that he world was bad, all bad. He saw the lady no more; and, if I am rightly informed, never again made matrimonial overtures to anyone' (Penguin Dr Thorne, intro RRendell, ch 2, p. 30)
Miss Dunstable had been presented as not a marrying woman. That was part of her charm. She stood free of the marketplace and of Eros.
Now I was to see them united so that the putative reader who wanted 'country copulatives' made of all the characters at the end of the comedy. As I have said, I don't like happy endings when they are tacked on. I find false happiness which I know doesn't exist in the world depressing. As I said off-list to someone at his best Trollope reminds me of Samuel Johnson: the comfort and strength he offers the reader is that of hard truth (as in the stories of Crawley and Sowerby, the temptation of shallow ambition of Mark) combined with strong integrity and kindness that is believable in other characters because it's partly in their interest to act that way. I like Framley Parsonage insofar as it is steely at the core.
Is there anyone who feels the way I do here? That Trollope is spoiling his design, his original conception for the sake of a neatly tied ending. After all, there needs someone to live with Miss Dunstable at Chaldicotes.
I make a separation because I admit I have gotten used to this violation. To be truthful, the first time I read Framley Parsonage what I admired was how tactfully Trollope had carried it off by the use of a comradely letter, by his de-emphasis of the sexual element in the attraction of Miss Dunstable. Dr Thorne likes her for her character. There are also gentle hints that it is not 'absurd' sexually either (as if sex between old and therefore not-so-pretty people must be absurd). We are told Dr Thorne is a young fifty-year old, and our narrator forgets about Miss Dunstable's wide mouth, tight black curls, bony structure and loud voice.
On a fourth read I find myself paying attention to the letters. I suppose one does two things when one rereads a book several times: one becomes detached from the text a bit; at the same time, one also invests more sympathy in the author and begin to lose sight of your original objections. This is one real danger of literary study: a text that was once boring becomes interesting since you are spending so much time on it. Something you recognised as basically pandering begins to become admirable sleight- of-hand and you look to see how humane and intelligent is Dr Thorne's disinterested letter (which it is).
The chapter 'How to Write a Love Letter' fits into a number of things I said about Trollope's use of letters in my lecture 'Partly Told in Letters'. Trollope makes the act of writing a part of the story. He allows us to enter the characters' mind and see the distance between what gets down on paper and the inner self -- as well as the closeness. Dr Thorne's letter is both performative and sincere. It is appropriate that he should propose by letter. Like George de Courcy, though for very different reasons, he is not sure of himself. It's easier to be rejected by letter. A letter forms a bridge and a barrier at once. You are both present and absent. How kind this is.
The letter itself is surrounded by interesting stylistic commentary. Our narrator tells us
it is not always easy to use simple, plain language, -- by no means so easy as to mount on stilts, and to march along with with sesquipedalian words, with pathos, spasms, and notes of interjection (Ch 39, p. 461).
How true. How easy to begin a paragraph 'Equally importantly'; how hard to put into simply words a sum-up of what has gone before and explicit words for what is coming and convey its importance all at once. And the strength of emotion in the letter is at its best when the words are home-y-ist:
I will plight you my word and troth with good faith, and will do what an old man may do to make the burden of the world lie light upon your shoulders (Ch 39, p 462).
Note he doesn't promise any heroic feats or even success. He will do all the best that is in him to do. These are also all Anglo-Saxon words. No Latinate roots.
And Miss Dunstable's reply is short and says clearly why she knows she is lucky to have this man:
I do and will trust you in everything (Ch 39, p. 464).
Of how many people can we say we will trust them in everything? We have seen in Dr Thorne itself that Henry Thorne is this rare person.