This is probably my favorite Trollope novel, if you can say that when you’ve only read a fraction of his prodigious output. I picked up the audiobook in a sale a couple of years ago, and I finally listened to it because listening to Anthony Powell reminded me of Trollope’s big canvas and the way his series follow characters over years, and because of the news about a new, expanded edition of The Duke’s Children, the last of the Palliser novels—Can You Forgive Her? is the first. I don’t think I’ll spring for the £195 Folio Society edition of The Duke’s Children; I’ll hope for Oxford, Penguin, or Broadview to bring out a classroom-priced edition. But I do now want to listen to or read the whole Palliser series, even if the final novel isn’t in the author’s preferred form (I’ve read the first three in the past).
My version of Can You Forgive Her? is read by Simon Vance, who also reads Powell’s Dance to the Music of time series. I may choose a different narrator to get the rest of my Palliser fix, because much as I like Vance, that seems like a lot of one narrator. I also own the next three books in print; this one is mysteriously missing from my Trollope shelf, so I have some shopping to do.
Although no one would mistake Trollope for a contemporary feminist, and his statements about Women as a class sometimes had me rolling my eyes, Can You Forgive Her? is very much a novel focused on questions of love, marriage, and female agency–and the role money plays in all of them. The title refers to Alice Vavasor and her vacillation between two suitors; her cousin Lady Glencora and aunt Arabella Greenow are also choosing between two men. Though the Palliser novels are usually described as Trollope’s “Parliamentary Novels,” in this story, the political fortunes of the male characters take a narrative backseat to the courtship stories–and in Lady Glencora’s case, her husband sacrifices his political ambitions (at least temporarily) to save his marriage. The novel is more about sexual/gender politics than the national kind–and it reflects on the way women’s only access to national politics at the time was through marital alliances and influence on the men in their lives. In romance genre terms, we get a second-chance at love story, a marriage of convenience/marriage in trouble story, and, well, I don’t know that Mrs. Greenow’s is a trope, but she’s a widow able to please herself and trying to decide what kind of future will please her best.
And now I’ll be spoilery, because I’m thinking anyone reading this who hasn’t read the book is unlikely to. But if you’d rather not know, stop here. Continue reading