Doctor Thorne is the third novel in Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series, succeeding The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers (1857). As in the first two novels, Trollope describes the social realities of his mythical county, providing extraordinary insight into the English class structure and the social realities of the nineteenth century. Unlike the first two works, which were concerned with the insular ecclesiastical world of a cathedral town, Trollope turns his attention in this novel to the landed wealth of Barsetshire. The gentry, represented by the Greshams, are in decline because of the political imprudence of the squire, who aligns himself with his wife’s family, the De Courcys, notoriously aristocratic and notoriously Whig. Having lost his Tory constituency and his money, Squire Gresham attempts to save the estate for his son.
It is at this point that Doctor Thorne, one of Trollope’s ideal gentlemen, enters the story. The squire’s only confidant, he serves not only as the family physician but also as its moral and spiritual counselor. Rigorous in his ethics, proud of his social station, and in no way awed by the upper classes, Doctor Thorne supports the squire in his attempt to restore the estate to its former vigor. Despising snobbish and pretentious aristocrats such as the De Courcys, who have no loyalty to the life of the land, he seeks to help his friend by advising various economies and suggesting judicious loans.
If the moral strength that saves Greshamsbury Park comes from the doctor, it is the money of Sir Roger Scatcherd that enables Gresham to recoup and permits Frank and Mary to wed. Scatcherd, who represents the new industrial wealth, unwittingly saves the agriculture of the area from the moneylenders of London. It is in this alignment that Trollope reveals his political sympathies with the English upper middle class and his antagonism to the aristocracy and their morality.
Doctor Thorne surpasses both of its predecessors in its range of characters and situations. It relies very heavily on melodrama, and the ending is distinctly reminiscent of a fairy tale, yet the scene setting and dialogue are as good as anything Trollope ever wrote. “Frank must marry money” is the refrain that integrates the novel. Lady Arabella is quite willing to sacrifice everything—her son’s happiness, Mary Thorne’s reputation, Doctor Thorne’s medical care of her—if only her son will attach himself to a rich woman. Lady Arabella’s husband, Squire Gresham, supports her, even though in his heart he approves of Mary and wants to honor his son’s love for her. Scatcherd thinks the power of his money will secure Mary for his dissolute son, Louis Philippe, who thinks the same. Doctor Thorne, who is neither intimidated nor awed by the aristocratic Gresham and De Courcy families, realizes the difficulty of Mary’s situation. If she does not inherit her uncle’s money, the prospects for her and Frank are bleak. Even Mary, although she never disavows her love for Frank, is willing (at Lady Arabella’s urging)...
(The entire section is 1263 words.)