This is the first novel I have read on my new Kindle. I feel weird about it. I am, proudly, a late adopter of technology, and here I am leaping in to the e-book.
I didn't have much choice. I have moved to Kenya, where there are not really a great many bookstores or libraries, and I felt a probably unhealthy degree of fear at the prospect of running out of things to read. Let's be serious, we definitely don't want to be left to our own thoughts.
So I bought a Kindle and it's already got ten books on it, and took up no space at all in my luggage.
This is a good thing, as Trollope's CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? is an impressive 900+ pages. Stephen King apparently christened it CAN YOU POSSIBLY FINISH IT?, while contemporary critics called it CAN YOU STAND HER?
These people are all mean. It's a pretty good book. It's the first in Trollope's Palliser series. Regular readers may remember how much I loved his Barchester books (here, here, here, and here), and I'm all ready to begin with the Pallisers. How I love Victorian fiction! How I love books that are free for the Kindle! I leave you to decide which is the stronger motivation for this new Trollope kick.
The HER that you may or may not FORGIVE is Alice Vavasor. She broke off her engagement to her cousin George when he cheated on her, and got engaged to another man, John Grey. She then got spooked about him, and broke up with him, getting engaged again to her cousin, and then eventually going back to John Grey. This sounds like a month in the life of the average sixteen year old, but I guess was a bigger deal in the nineteenth century. There are two parallel stories, a comic one about Alice's aunt, who is wealthy and has two middle-aged suitors, and a more serious one about Lady Glencora, Alice's friend, a wealthy young woman who has been forced to marry a man she does not love, and seriously considers leaving.
The book is almost melodramatic in tone, with cousin George going mad as the book goes on, and attempting murder; Lady Glencora's lover considering suicide; and Alice just slutting it up left and right. It is in that way very different from the Barchester novels, but is similar to them in Trollope's easy, fun prose, psychological insight, strong character development, and involving storytelling.
I'm being flip about the slutting. What I found most engaging actually about this book was Alice's struggle to determine what she wants of life. She gets spooked about John Grey because she suddenly fears she will be unhappy at his country home, and might be happier as a politician's wife, with her cousin George in London. She has a really hard struggle within herself as to what she actually wants or needs from her life, and I think most of us can relate to that.
She eventually, once she thinks she has lost it, realises that the quiet and prosaic life is her real choice. Comments Trollope:
“All her misery had been brought about by this scornful superiority to the ordinary pursuits of the world, - this looking down upon humanity.”