Framley Parsonage (1860)

by Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope featured clergy in his Bartsetshire novels but not their spiritual duties. In Framley Parsonage, the fourth novel in the series, he commented, “I have written much of clergymen, but in doing so I have endeavored to portray them as they bear on our social life rather than to describe the mode and working of their professional careers. Had I done the latter I could hardly have steered clear of subjects on which it has not been my intention to pronounce an opinion, and I should either have laden my fiction with sermons or I should have degraded my sermons with fiction.”

Trollope could have made the comment in any number of novels, but it is especially fitting in Framley Parsonage, where the hero, the clergyman Mark Robarts, is nearly ruined by his worldly ambitions. Through the patronage of Lady Lufton, the mother of his school friend, he secures a well-paying parish while still in his 20s, but Mark isn’t content. He wants to be among the county’s most prominent and powerful people and starts associating with them, against the better judgment of his wife, Fanny, and Lady Lufton. Mark may be partly motivated by a desire to assert his independence from his patroness, but belief that he was “fitted by nature for intimacy with great persons” is his main reason. He foolishly signs a bill for a member of Parliament, Mr. Sowerby, making himself legally responsible for Sowerby’s debt. It becomes clear early on that Sowerby isn’t going to pay, and in the rest of the book Mark agonizes over the consequences.

Lady Lufton figures in a second plotline as well: Her son, Lord Ludovic Lufton, falls in love with Mark’s sister Lucy, but Lady Ludovic considers Lucy of inferior status and “insignificant,” and Lucy won’t marry Ludovic without his mother’s permission. In some novels, the mother and son might be antagonists under such circumstances, but Trollope provides a more nuanced relationship. The Luftons truly love each other; Lady Lufton really wants her son’s happiness. Her ultimate acceptance of Lucy is the most touching part of the book.

This being Trollope, it won’t be giving anything away to say that Lucy and Ludovic marry and that Mark is rescued from ruin at the last minute. Mark is left chastened, however—his furniture is nearly confiscated, and his plight is public knowledge. It is part of Trollope’s genius with character that he lets basically good people pay the price of their bad decisions.


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