A Nearly 14Year Old's Perspective on Dr Thorne: Rank, Female Rivalry

To Trollope-l

February 8, 1998

Re: A Nearly 14 Year Old's Perspective on Dr Thorne (I)

As Penny Klein and Rachel [whose last name I no longer recall] and Jill Spriggs have said they enjoy Isabel's journals, I have decided to put Isabel's second journal on Dr Thorne on the list. There is also Penny's interest in Dr Thorne and her plan to start with her subgroup on The Small House in Allington in April. Dr Thorne is the third of the Barsetshire series, and The Small House is the fifth.

I am a little hesitant because Isabel decided to write about the whole of the book in one more journal. Thus her essay is longer than usual. The teacher really wants them to cover the plot and the conflicts, and 624 pages is 624 pages. Isabel has decided to go on to Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm for a couple of weeks, and then maybe go back to Framley Parsonage.

Those interested in how schools can control the direction a child goes in, and how inertia comes to play in this, one reason for waiting to start another book is each time Isabel has to get permission to read a novel by Trollope. She would not need permission to read a novel by Dickens -- or George Eliot's Silas Marner. This is not because Dickens or Eliot are any easier; it is a hold-over from attitudes towards adult books in the 1920's and 1930's which lead to high schools sticking to Dickens or those Victorian novels which have no sex. Today's junior high school (and high school) teacher knows what she has read, and, due to inertia, and the demand for far more "ed" credits than credits in a subject for Junior High teachers I would suspect that unless the teacher likes to read, she may not have read Trollope. Don't all English teachers like to read? No. Some don't. Some have little sense of adventure, little background in history; some are just "switched" over from teaching another subject. I taught high school English teachers who had only read a couple of plays by Shakespeare.

Well enough complaining. What I have decided to do is split Isabel's journal in half. The first will give her sense of point of view and her summary of the plot. The latter may actually give those thinking about reading Dr Thorne some curiosity to read it. The former shows how she was fascinated by the letters in the novel.

Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope. 624 out of 624.

Point of View and Setting:

The second two-thirds of the book is again from everyone's point of view. Although we most often see things from Frank's point of view, we also see things largely from Mary and Dr Thorne's point of view. For example, the scenes of the Scatcherds when Sir Roger is alive are all from Dr Thorne's point of view, and the scenes of the Scatcherds after he dies, especially those between Mary and Louis, are tiold from Mary's point of view. This makes us see the Scatcherds from afar, and not sympathize with them in the way we sympathize with Dr and Mary Thorne.

There are also numbers of letters in the rest of the novel. For example, Miss Dunstable writes a letter. We then see the De Courcys from her point of view. One chapter is made up of nothing but letters between Lady Amelia de Courcy and Augusta Gresham. They keep up a correspondence about Mr Mortimer Gazebee. But we don't really identify with them because the letters are set into a text. Still the letters are fascinating and fun and show how their minds work. These letters take us away from the novel as Frank and Mary are only mentioned in the PS's. But then it's true most people only care about themselves. If Augusta and Lady Amelia were to retell the novel, it would be about them. It is curious though how in these letters even though Lady Amelia dominates Augusta, we really see everything from Augusta's point of view because the narrator is on Augusta's side

The novel still takes place in Barsetshire. The action doesn't move from place to place very much. There is a scene in London where Frank beats up Mr. Moffat for breaking his engagement with Frank's sister, this same Augusta, but the sense of the scene is the characters are just out of place, and soon they will return to their homes again.

The Story:

After Frank escapes marrying Miss Dunstable, he refuses to court anyone but Mary. However, he doesn't get much chance to court Mary. First, Lady Arabella keeps Mary from entering Greshambury. Then Lady Arabella goes so far as to break Mary's relationships with all the other people in Greshambury. Lady Arabella also gets angry at Dr. Thorne, and refuses to see him. So Mary goes to Boxall Hill where the Scatcherds live. She does not know Sir Roger is her uncle. Sir Roger dies of alcoholism, and his son, Louis, comes home, but he too drinks too heavily, and finds himself under Dr. Thorne's care.

Now in his will Sir Roger declared that Louis would inherit his estate at the age of 25. If Louis died before 25, it would go to his sister, Mary Scatcherd's eldest child. At the time Roger didn't know that Mary was his niece; he thought his sister's "bastard" had died, and was referring to his sister's new children in Australia. Dr. Thorne tells Sir Roger that Mary is now his heir if Louis should die, but Sir Roger does not alter the will.

However, that Mary does not go to Greshambury is not about to stop Frank. He goes to Boxall Hill after Mary. There's a lovely scene where Mary is on top of a donkey who is unusually tolerant -- for a donkey. Though Mary hasn't quite made up her mind whether she loves Frank, he thinks she does when she doesn't take her fingers out of his hand. Thus they are engaged. His father manages to dissuade him from marrying Mary at least for a while. So Frank heads for mainland Europe for a year. During the year Mary learns that she does love Frank.

Meanwhile Lady Arabella is becoming more ill. She sends for Dr. Fillgrave. Dr. Fillgrave sends for Dr. Century. Dr. Century sends for Dr. Omicron Pie, and Dr. Pie finally sighs and says to Lady Arabella she is going to have to send for Dr. Thorne. So Lady Arabella finally gives in and does so. Now that Sir Roger Scatcherd has died, Louis comes to Greshambury too, and makes quite a scene because the Squire owed his father and now owes him a great deal of money. Dr. Thorne drags Louis away from Greshambury, and tries to keep Louis by him. Louis refuses and goes back to Boxall Hill where he drinks himself to death.

Lady Arabella has meanwhile given Mary a severe lecture, and Mary sends a letter to Frank to attempt to break the engagement. Of course, it doesn't work. Actually Mary doesn't want to break the engagement now, and is heartbroken because she doesn't get an answer for a week. She just doesn't realize it takes time for letters to get from her house to the post-office and from the post-office to Frank's. Normally it would not have taken so long, but she sent it over a weekend. (Letters are not as efficient in this novel as they were in Sense and Sensibility, but they are better than today. Mary is lucky; centuries ago, she would have had to leave her letter at a tavern and hope someone going in the right direction would pick it up.)

Meanwhile Beatrice becomes engaged to Mr. Oriel, and Augusta is courted by Mr Mortimer Gazebee and although she wants to marry him (he's better than no-one), her mistress, Lady Amelia de Courcy, disapproves, and so Augusta misses her one chance for happiness in life. Beatrice wants Mary to come to the wedding, but Mary says she cannot come to the wedding until the problems are resolved between Frank and his parents. In the end, Mary does come to Beatrice's wedding.

Dr. Thorne is the only one who knows that Louis's death has already resolved everyone's problems. Now Mary is an heiress and if Frank marries Mary, that's marrying money. If Frank marries her, the debt owed to the Scatcherds will be irrelevant because after all Mary is now the Scatcherd heiress. So in the end Frank marries for love while marrying money. Mary is now recognized as Dr. Thorne's real niece and she gains position and respect. Only Lady Arabella is made uncomfortable. Augusta Gresham too comes to a sad end because she couldn't think for herself. In fact, we are told that later on (in another book) Lady Amelia married Gazebee.

Ellen and Isabel Moody

Re: A Nearly 14 Year Old's Perspective on Dr Thorne (II)

Here is the Second Half of Isabel's Journal. Again Isabel was fascinated by the exchange of letters between Augusta Gresham and Lady Amelia De Courcy.

Conflicts, Internal and External:

There are many many conflicts in this book. First of all the most general one is the election. Both Sir Roger Scatcherd and Moffat run for office in Parliament in the second third of the book. Scatcherd wins, but is thrown out because it is discovered he bribed his electors. In our particular story Lady Arabella is struggling with Dr. Thorne. This time it's simply because he's standing up for Mary. Lady Arabella reminds me of strong aggressive woman who won't listen to reason and hurts herself in the end. She wants to be boss and makes her husband miserable. In fact, she nearly dies because she wouldn't unbend enough to summon for Dr. Thorne.

The largest conflict in the family is over who Frank should marry. There are all those people who think Frank must marry money, and Frank struggles against them. This includes his father who would like Frank to marry for love, but feels Frank can't. His father feels guilty because he knows he is to blame for spending too much. On the other side, there is Dr. Thorne and Mary. They don't believe Mary should marry Frank, but do think Mary is being treated very unfairly to be ostracized when Mary has done nothing. Mary is made an outcast from her own home. She's made to feel inferior.

Louis comes into this because he wants to marry Mary too. He is soon forced to give up on this desire, but he demands that the Squire pay back the debt. This causes conflicts which are also internal. The poor Squire is driven to worry about how he will pay the debt. Louis also causes the Dr. Thorne to experienceinternal conflict. Louis drinks too much, and Dr. Thorne feels he can't just let Louis die. But if Louis were to die, it would give Mary all she wants in life. The doctor does do all he can to keep Louis going, but it doesn't work. We are made to feel Louis destroyed himself. We do not admire Louis in the way we do his father. It's strange how Sir Roger was a murderer and yet in this society he only had to serve a few years in prison. But he is a very human and means well and is loving in his way. He works hard too. On his deathbed Sir Roger asked Dr Thorne to prevent Louis from dying of drink the way he has. Louis doesn't seem to have any good qualities. This way we don't feel so bad when he is gotten out of the way.

A final small conflict I'd like to mention is that between Augusta Gresham and Lady Amelia De Courcy. Their letters are interesting because Augusta really wants to marry Mortimer Gazebee, and in a sense Lady Amelia takes advantage of Augusta's inner conflict. Augusta cannot make up her mind to marry this man because he is beneath her in rank, even though marrying him would make her happier than she is living with her family as an old maid. I also think she really did want to marry Mr Gazebee. She loved him in her way. But she was afraid to do anything without the permission of her great friend.

6. What attitudes are expressed by the author or by people in the story toward social superior or inferiors?

This book has a lot to do with social class. Many of the conflicts and miseries people experience have to do with how they fear going down in the social structure and their anger when they do. Other conflicts and miseries come from people of higher rank depriving people of lower rank of things they want. People seem to want to go up in rank, though in some cases when people go up in rank, this only makes them uncomfortable. While money is finally more important than rank, attitudes towards one's rank creates a great deal of the action of the story.

For example, Frank's need for money began when the Squire married Lady Arabella and she was a De Courcy. The De Courcys are very high in rank. Lady Arabella drove him to try for Parliament, and at the same time tried to change his party alliance. He therefore couldn't succeed. But the money was spent three times over because she wouldn't give up. The result is not only that Frank must marry money, but also that the Scatcherds can threaten to take the Squire's property because he has had to borrow from them over all these years.

Then there is Lady Arabella thinking she can say whatever she wants and do whatever she wants to Dr. and Mary Thorne and they will have no recourse. In a way that is so. Lady Arabella does manage to drive Mary to go to Boxall. But some of the people disapprove, and Dr. Thorne is infuriated with Lady Arabella. Lady Arabella also doesn't want Frank to marry Mary because Mary is illegitimate.

The letters between Augusta and Lady Amelia revolve around the problem of Mr Gazebee's rank, and what's more Augusta obeys Lady Amelia because Lady Amelia is so much higher in rank. It would be a come-down for Augusta to marry Mr Gazebee; Amelia only marries him much later after he makes a great deal of money, and rises high in rank. Money brings rank and rank brings money. Now one of the ways Lady Amelia dominates Augusta is by referring to rank and duty. Lady Amelia argues "rank has its duties, as well as its privileges." We don't see Lady Amelia have many duties except to snub other people, though she argues Augusta had the duty not to marry below her rank. This apparently didn't apply later when Gazebee made money and himself rose in rank.

Augusta on the other hand really falls by not marrying. She can get no money unless she marries because her father, Lord De Courcy is really strained too. We can mention that Mr Moffat who is engaged to Augusta when the book opens is lower than her in rank. He is sneered at, but he has money, and one of the reasons he breaks the engagement is he thinks he can do better than Augusta. Doing better means marrying up.

Now there are some people in the book who are not that bothered by rank. For example, Miss Dunstable is low in rank. Her father made his money selling some kind of body oil. But since he made so much money, she can marry up, and be raised in rank. She also seems to be a free spirit who doesn't care about that much about such things. She doesn't fix her hair and doesn't worry manners all that much. That's why we like her so much.

Finally, there is the story of poor Lady Scatcherd, Sir Roger's wife. Like Miss Dunstable, she rises in rank, but she is very uncomfortable when she gets up there. Maybe it's that she doesn't have enough money or isn't strong enough. At any rate, she has no first name; this reminds me of Austen's novels where characters have no first name because no-one addresses them that way. This is also a factor of rank. Lady Scatcherd was originally a lower class woman. She was Frank Gresham's wet-nurse. Now that Sir Roger has made so much money, she is Lady Scatcherd. But she is not happy because she has no friends. Cicero said it is foolish to have riches but have no friends, and he was right. The reason we don't learn her name is she has no close friend to talk to who is of her rank. She has no-one she is comfortable with but her servant, Hannah, and you are not supposed to confer with a servant. So she sneaks away to Hannah. Poor Lady Scatcherd.

Ellen and Isabel Moody

I was asked the following question by Penny Klein onlist:

"BTW, did you notice your daughter's description of Lady Arabella? I am not versant in my email system so I will re write this for you "Lady Arabella reminds me of strong aggressive woman who won't listen to reason and hurts herself in the end" That line frightened me, but then I do not know how she defines agressive."

Not only did I notice it, I typed it for her word-for-word. Basically the way we do these journals is she talks, I type, she revises, I come in an help rearrange and polish or "fix." This is not the only implicitly political or social or gender-related comment she has made. But I am the kind of mother who says very little in this way. If we get into a conversation in which she specificially asks me what do I think -- as when she said how strange it was that Sir Roger Scatcherd just about "got away" with murder, and I explained the attitude toward sex, of what was understood to be the brother or father or husband's function and "rights" and the harm sustained by the "family" in such an instance -- I do "preach" a bit because I convey what I think. Otherwise I have a way of leaving her -- and her olde sister, Laura -- to say what they want to. I think the way a child is taught is by example. I am particularly afraid of inhibiting her. She will then say what she thinks I want to hear--as she has learned to do in school -- and of course keep her real thoughts to herself. Further, she was reading the book in the way Trollope intended; she did "get" it as it was originally meant.

Isabel also tends to ask less than Laura. When children are ready to hear, they ask. I signed both Laura and Isabel out of the "family life" style courses so favored by the schools they have both endured. I am appalled by such propagandistic "courses. They go to the library and read what they want there.

Within reason I let my children be. I don't bully; I don't invade. Of course neither do I let them own me. I don't preach the values here either. I simply live and let live. Isabel's journals are her as my writing is me.


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