I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.
I found that I loved the way Trollope wrote, taking such trouble to introduce his characters, making me understand why he was telling their story and guiding me so carefully through it, being present without ever being intrusive.
He cared, and he made me care.
The ‘Her’ of the title is Alice Vavasor. She was engaged to Mr John Grey, who was wise, thoughtful, wealthy and handsome. He was genuinely good man, and a very fine catch. But Alice had doubts. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him; her doubts were about the life they would live together, a life that she feared she would find dreadfully dull.
Kate Vasnovour, Alice’s cousin and dearest friend, hoped that Alice would marry her brother, George. They had been engaged, George and Alice, but Alice had broken off the engagement, on account of something that George did. But Kate continued to promote the match, because she loved George, she loved Alice, and she was quite sure that they would be happy.
Alice did break her engagement to Mr Grey. She thought she was doing the right thing, that she should honour her earlier engagement, but her family were appalled.
Kate thought it wise to go away for a little while, and so she went to stay with her Aunt Greenow, in the country. Mrs Greenhow had married an very elderly, very wealthy husband, and he had died shortly afterwards, leaving her a young, wealthy and very eligible widow. Two vey different men were rivals for her hand: Mr Cheesacre, a portly but prosperous farmer, eager to show what a fine husband he would make; and Captain Bellfield, a handsome, poor, unemployed soldier, who was maybe playing things a little more cleverly. Mrs Greenhow was having a lovely time, enjoying the trappings of a grieving widow, and loving being the centre of attention.
That was the light relief, and it was wonderfully entertaining.
George proposed to Alice and, though she was still worried that she had behaved badly to Mr Grey, she accepted. Because she had decided that the best thing she could do was to try to curb George’s worst excesses, try to help him to make something of his life. George’s wanted to get into parliament, but he lacked the necessary means; Alice did have the means and she promised that she would use her fortune to support his political career. She kept her promise, but success brought out the worst in George. Alice soon realised that she had made a terrible mistake, but she wanted to do the right thing she wanted to keep her promises.
Alice retreated to the country, to stay with another cousin, Lady Glencora Palliser. Glencora was the richest heiress in England, she was young, she was pretty, she was vivacious, and she was the new wife of Plantagenet Palliser, one of the most promising young politicians in the country. But she wasn’t happy. Her family had steered her very firmly her away from the handsome, charming and dissolute Burgo Fitzgerald, and towards an eminently suitable marriage. But Glencora found Plantagenet stiff and boring, and he seemed to find her frivolous and silly. She told herself that she was still in love with Burgo, and she dreamed of running away with him.
Trollope brings together these stories, stories of three very different women, beautifully. Their situations have similarities and they have differences, and they all have to make decisions about the future, about which path they will take; decisions made difficult by conflicts between family duty, social acceptance, personal principles and their own happiness.
He managed every element of the plot, he attended to every detail. My only, minor, criticism would be that there were moments when he overplayed the comedy.
It was fascinating to watch the characters become clearer, as I spent more time with them and as circumstances showed different sides of them. The story grew, it became deeper, and I was pulled further and further in.
I loved the contrasts: the comic relief against the serious drama; the steady Alice against the high-spirited Glencora; the good men, Mr Grey and Palliser against the bad men, George Vasnavour and Burgo Fitzgerald. And though I use the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ because I can’t find better adjectives, but Trollope was much more subtle that that; all four men were fallible human beings, with different strengths and weaknesses.
And I could forgive Alice; though I didn’t feel it was my place to judge her, because she was simply a young woman without a mother to guide her, and she tried to do the right thing but she struggled to know what the right thing was.
I was involved. I cared. Sometimes I knew what would happen, but often I was surprised. I felt so many emotions. And I knew that I would miss this world and these people when the story was over.
There were country houses, there were London streets, their were foreign tours, there was a disputed will, and in the end there would be marriage ….
And Trollope breathed life into it all, into every single thing in this book.
It’s a big book but it didn’t feel like a big book, and I’m already reading another big book, the next book in the series.