January 26, 1998
Re: A 14 Year Old's Perspective: Dr Thorne
I thought it might amuse and actually give rise to some conversation on books besides those we are reading as a group, if I shared with list-member parts of a "book journal" my 13 1/2 year old daughter, Isabel, wrote this past Sunday on Dr Thorne. Her approach is fresh. She has no axes to grind -- at least no conscious ones as yet.
A little background: she is a clever imaginative young girl who loves to read. She is herself very active on the Net in a Chess Club where she has, among other things, an "imagination page." This year she was placed in an Honors English Class where the teacher has the children write just about weekly on books they choose to read from a list the teacher has compiled of "good" books. Alas, as one might expect, Trollope's books were not included among these, while Dickens's were. (It's not difficulty but ingrained habit that excludes Trollope.) But on our summer holiday on the way to Maine Isabel listened with my husband and myself to just about the whole of Timothy West's reading aloud of Dr Thorne for cover-to- cover and was charmed. She was especially amused by the repeated phrase in the book about how "Frank must marry money." So she asked the teacher permission to write upon Dr Thorne. Permission was granted.
The way I help her is to discuss books with her. I give her ideas, frameworks. Then she chatters away as I type. Sometimes we stop and talk and I make suggestions. Then she talks again. I am a ten-fingered very rapid typist.
The journal form. The children are encouraged to write three journals per novel. Thus a first journal would cover only one third of the book (which is what Isabel does though she is about 3/4's of the way through -- during Christmas she got ahead.) First the children are asked to tell whose point of view the book is told from and to describe the setting. In response to this request, Isabel said (and I typed what she said):
"This book is told from everyone's point of view. This time (as opposed to the other books she has written upon) what we have is a narrator who himself comes forward and in the first two chapters fills us in on the history of what happened before the book opens. Then he moves from his own point of view which is impersonal to that of other characters. We move first from Dr. Thorne, then to Frank Gresham, a little to Mary Thorne and Augusta, back again to Frank's father, the Squire, onto Lady Arabella, then back to Frank again, and that's where we currently are. We could say Frank is the young hero, but actually the novel is intended for the doctor to be the real hero because it's his and Mary's story too. Everything started with his brother seducing Mary's mother, and he has become Mary's father. The heroine is Mary; that is not debated. The book is set in Barsetshire, England. It is very pretty there. It is a countryside place with houses, a railway, roads, and I got a whole picture of it.
Then the children must summarize the plot. Isabel wrote:
"We must first review what happened before the book opened. We have the successful older Squire, Mr. Gresham (that's Frank's grandfather). Frank's father wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, and have an important career in Parliament. He's urged on by his wife, Lady Arabella, who is actually a De Courcy from De Courcy castle. However, he fails, and when he does, he drains his fortune. That means Frank must marry money. This is repeated many times.
As to Dr. Thorne and Mary's side of the novel, it all started when Thorne's brother, Henry Thorne, seduced Mary Scatcherd, Mary's mother. She became pregnant, and Henry did not marry her, so Mary's brother, Roger Scatcherd came to beat him up, and by mistake murdered him. Roger Scatcherd was imprisoned for a while, and during that while, Mary was born, her mother went to Australia where she married a pharmacist, and Dr. Thorne began to raise Mary as his own baby daughter.
When the book opens, it's years later. Frank is 21 and everyone is celebrating his coming of age, except it's not a great celebration because there's not enough money. The problem is, as is so often repeated, Frank must marry money while Frank has fallen in love with none other than Mary Thorne herself. Now as far as we know Mary has no money. So Frank must go to De Courcy castle to see if he can marry Miss Dunstable who is enormously rich. Frank has two younger sisters, Augusta, and Beatrice, and Augusta is set to marry Mr Moffat who also has money.
Frank meets Miss Dunstable and the two become good friends. She would rather marry someone who loves her, and Frank actually has no intention of marrying her. She doesn't realize this yet though. She thinks Frank is a fortune hunter. The other young men in the house are after her money too. Then Frank reveals everything to her, and she supports him. I like Miss Dunstable."
The third part of the journal requires the young students to discuss the "conflicts" in the book. Isabel said:
"The conflicts in this story are many. First of all, there's Frank versus his mother. Lady Arabella seems to be the worst problem in the book for everyone. She made the father miserable, and she's the one who urged him to keep on trying for Parliament and that's the way he lost all his money, and now she wants Frank to marry money because of something that is really her fault.
Then of course there's Mary and the doctor. Mary's not sure whether or not she loves Frank back. She really thinks, however, that she can't marry him because he's got to marry money. One funny conflict is between Dr. Thorne and his rival, Dr. Fillgrave. You can see from his name what kind of doctor he is. The two are enemies, and they are always writing columns in the newspaper against one another. Later in the book whenever anyone is made at Dr Thorne they tell him they will call for Dr Fillgrave. I wonder if when they are mad at Dr Fillgrave, they call Dr Thorne.
Then of course there's the matter of the De Courcys versus Frank and the Squire. They look down on the Squire, and they are not fond of Mary. Lady Arabella's sister, Lady De Courcy, is pressuring Frank to marry Miss Dunstable. Miss Dunstable though is one of the few characters in the book who sides with Frank."
The last part of the journal is the most interesting of all. The teacher provides a series of questions which are intended to produce some form of what adults call "literary criticism." Isabel chose and answered and following question:
"13. What kinds of conflicts are depicted? People against people, meaning Dr. Thorne against Dr Fillgrave.
This is funny. They are rivals in the same profession. Dr. Fillgrave and Dr. Thorne have different views of what a doctor should do. Dr. Thorne's view is that he's running a business, so he's takes fees from the patient. He also makes medicines as if he were a druggist (or as it's called in the book, an apothecary). But he is honest, and doesn't take money unless he tries to do something for the patient. He's not a snob. He is also kind and pays attention to poor people, and will ride on his horse across the country to see a poor person. Of course he takes a fee if he can. If, however, the person has no money, Dr. Thorne still treats that person. Dr. Thorne's fee fee is 7 and 6 (whatever that means) and he makes change. Dr. Fillgrave can't get over this.
Dr. Fillgrave seems to be dishonest and a snob. He won't treat people unless they can pay him. He won't make medicines. He takes money and then sends them somewhere else for medicine. He tries to pretend he does not take fees, but that rather the patient pays him because the patient feels like it. Oh come on. And in fact Dr. Fillgrave's patients are expected to pay more than 7 and 6 (whatever that means). I think you can see why he's called Dr. Fillgrave. He doesn't care about his patients really.
Trollope makes no attempt to disguise the pun. This is not the only name which is a pun. Moffat's two campaign managers (he's the man Augusta is to marry and he's running for Parliament) are called Nearthewind and Closerstill because they are dishonest while staying within the law. Well Dr. Fillgrave fills graves. Dr. Thorne is also a name which is allegorical. He is a thorn in Dr. Fillgrave's side. Dr. Thorne is also a prickly person. However, this use of the name is something you realize later. At first you don't notice it. (Dr. Thorne's first name is Thomas.)
The two fight it out in the newspapers, and what they say about one another seems very funny, though it's not funny to them. It's all light-hearted because no-one we meet seems really hurt. It's like this instance where aliens are stranded on a planet, and they just found a weapon which had strange symbols on it. They can't read these. They actually say "remarkably stupid weapon; do not use." And then the aliens decide to try it out, and it shoots out a blue beam which completes a rotation around the planet in less than a second. It then hits the weapon and blows the weapon up, taking the aliens with it. This is funny to the reader, but it's not that funny to the aliens. Well this is the same kind of humor. One difference though is that we don't really believe in the aliens, and we do believe in and like Dr Thorne."
Next week Isabel intends to answer the question about "patterns of social life" in the novel.
Ellen and Isabel