(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Greshamsbury Park, in the county of Barsetshire, dominates the life of the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, Greshamsbury’s lord, Squire Gresham, is rapidly spending himself into poverty. Most of his financial troubles result from the desire of his wife, Lady Arabella De Courcy Gresham, to get him into politics. The squire inherited his father’s seat in Parliament but lost it because of his Whig leanings. Barsetshire is overwhelmingly Tory and does not approve of Gresham’s Whig friends or the fact that his wife’s aristocratic family, the De Courcys, are aggressively Whig in sentiment. Gresham twice tries to regain his seat in the Parliamentary elections because his wife fancies being the wife of a member of Parliament, but he is unsuccessful and loses a great deal of money in financing his campaigns.

Therefore, when his son Frank came of age, Squire Gresham has not much to offer him in the way of financial security. Lady Arabella sees as their only hope the possibility of Frank’s marriage to a wealthy heiress. That he might do such a thing, however, seems rather doubtful, for, much to the distress of his mother and her family, Frank is in love with Mary Thorne, niece of the local doctor. Frank and Mary knew each other all their lives, and Mary was educated along with the young Greshams at Greshamsbury Park.

Mary was brought to live with her uncle, Doctor Thorne, when she was a mere infant. The real circumstances of her birth—that she is the illegitimate child of Doctor Thorne’s brother and Mary Scatcherd, a village girl—are known only to the doctor. Even Mary’s brother Roger, who killed his sister’s betrayer, did not know that Doctor Thorne adopted the child. Roger, a poor stonemason, was sentenced to six months in prison for his crime. When his term was up, he was told that the child had died. Since the doctor stood in high favor with Squire Gresham and regularly cared for Lady Arabella, his niece, an attractive child and near the age of the Gresham children, took her lessons with them. By the time Frank was of age, Mary seemed part of the family. Lady Arabella, however, is determined that this is not to be the literal state of affairs, for Mary has no money.

One of Squire Gresham’s greatest misfortunes is the forced sale of a particularly choice part of his estate to pay off his most pressing debts. Doctor Thorne, acting as agent for the squire, finds a buyer in Sir Roger Scatcherd, the...

(The entire section is 1003 words.)