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Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

Can You Forgive Her?

by Anthony Trollope

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Palliser Novels (1)

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The "You" referred to in the title of Can You Forgive Her? is the reader. The "Her" is Alice Vavasor, 24 years old, heiress of a modest fortune from her deceased mother's estate, and largely left to her own devices by her negligent father. What we may or may not forgiver her for is the series of choices she will make--most of which she will regret--when faced with marriage proposals from two men. One of the men is wealthy, trustworthy, respectable, and caring. He offers her a life of quiet retirement at his country seat in what he admits is the ugliest part of England. The other man, her cousin, is a fiery, ambitious risk-taker who has made and lost several fortunes. He is honest enough to admit that he is courting Alice chiefly for her money which he needs to support a run for Parliament.

Alice is not the only woman who faces a choice between a man who is boring but respectable and one who is exciting but a scamp. Her widowed aunt, Mrs. Greenow, is considering remarriage, and her appearances are a continuous source of comic relief. Alice's distant cousin, Lady Glencora Palliser, is in a more serious situation. She has been forced by her family into a loveless marriage with Plantagenet Palliser, a rising politician who wants her only for her wealth and to breed an heir. But she is still madly in love with a dashing but penniless rascal and can't trust herself not to run off with him at the first opportunity.

"What should a woman do with her life?... A woman’s life is important to her,—as is that of a man to him,—not chiefly in regard to that which she shall do with it. The chief thing for her to look to is the manner in which that something shall be done." True to the sense of this observation, Trollope delves into the motivations of each of his characters. Alice is far from being the only one who needs our forgiveness by the time the story is done. Forgiveness is a regular motif, in fact, as characters are regularly tasked with forgiving one another or, in some cases, denying that forgiveness.

Trollope uses an interesting technique to engage the reader directly with Alice and the other characters. Repeated authorial remarks like "I am inclined to think that Mr Grey knew what he was about" invite us to judge the characters apart from the author's intentions and to disagree with his conclusions. Midway through the novel Trollope admits his own sympathies on the matter, but implies that he can not tell us how to judge Alice, only hope that we will agree with him: "And you also must forgive her before we close the book, or else my story will have been told amiss." Of course in judging Alice we are judging her creator. Only a confident author would stand his work up in this manner, and I think Trollope's confidence is not misplaced.

About half of the novel takes place in London. As two of the major characters are involved with Parliament, English politics naturally come in for some degree of comment, and we are shown seats in Parliament being won through the buying of votes among the working classes. But the social message and satire of Can You Forgive Her? do not run very deep, and Trollope's depiction of London of the 1860s pales by comparison with that of Dickens. Trollope is much more in his element writing about the leisurely lives and often comical social adventures of the country gentry, and this where much of the novel plays out. The remaining scenes comprise two picturesque visits to Switzerland.

Can You Forgive Her? is the first of six "Palliser Novels." While the Palliser family is secondary in this story, Lady Glencora Palliser is by far the novel's most engaging character. Her freethinking attitudes seem to presage those of this century. Alice is more a source of frustration--"slappable," some would call her. In the end, though, it isn't so much whether her friends can forgive her, or even whether the reader can forgive her, but can she forgive herself? And isn't that the crux of it for us all? ( )
3 vote StevenTX | Mar 10, 2015 |
This is the first of Trollope's Palliser series, and introduces several members of the Palliser family although they form a somewhat secondary thread of the novel. Likewise, while I gather the series as a whole focuses on Parliament and British politics generally, and while these are important in this novel, they are also secondary to the main plots and themes. For what this novel primarily addresses is the strictures placed upon women in the mid to late 19th century: in choosing husbands, in managing (their own) money, and in always needing to seem, if not be, respectable.

Three women serve as examples of these quandaries, and the primary focus of the book is on Alice Vavasor. On her father's side, Alice is the descendent of centuries of small landowners; her mother died early in her life but on that side she has more noble relatives, who largely, except for one, Lady Glencora (another focus of the plot), she doesn't see much. Alice is very friendly with her cousins Kate and George Vavasor, and indeed was once engaged to George. The engagement was broken off because of some misconduct by George, and as the novel opens she is engaged to, and in love with, a very respectable man, John Grey. Alice yearns to be involved in the issues and activities of the times, and fears that life in the country with John Grey will be too boring -- and so she keeps postponing setting a date for the wedding.

A lot of the novel deals with Alice's subsequent change of heart, encouraged b Kate who dreams of a marriage between Alice and her brother, and by George's desire to run for a parliamentary seat. George turns out to be ruthless, mean, violent, and more, and has no compunction about using Alice's money (inherited from her mother) to pay for an "agent" who apparently bribes people to vote for a desired candidate. Alice agonizes about her choices endlessly.

Two other women's stories are intertwined with Alice's. Her cousin, Lady Glencora, is madly in love with a charming and beautiful man, Burgo Fitzgerald, who has no aim in life other than to live well and beyond his means; he is initially after Glencora's money but finds he loves her too. Needless to say, her relatives refuse to let her marry Burgo and hasten to marry her off to Plantagenent Palliser, the son of a duke and a rising star in Parliament. She, of course, finds him boring in the extreme and still longs for Burgo, who plots to carry her off despite her marriage, although she knows she shouldn't.

The other woman is Alice's aunt, Mrs. Greenow, a widow who inherited money from her husband, who was "in trade." She provides comic relief, as she is a delightful schemer, but she also represents a woman who can make choices on her own, thanks to her widowed status. She is juggling two prospective new husbands, one a solid farmer and one a charming liar, out in the countryside where she is living.

And so the stage is set as Trollope masterfully organizes the endlessly complex interactions among these characters (and many more), including abduction plots, steadfast loyalty, political scheming, romantic yearning, inheritance puzzles, and, for Alice, endless worrying and self-scolding for what she believes to be her unforgivable behavior towards John Grey. In this novel, the bad characters get worse as the novel progresses, and the good people acquire additional good characteristics, so the ending is satisfying, if indeed a little unbelievable for someone like me who generally reads much grimmer fare.

I am impressed by Trollope's writing, in particular by his creation of full-fledged, believable female characters, as well as by his ability to juggle plots and characters and by his authorly interjections to the reader. I am glad I finally succumbed to reading him, and will continue to do so.
5 vote rebeccanyc | Feb 7, 2015 |
After a three and a half year hiatus, I’ve returned to Trollope and I am so glad I did. I read the Barsetshire series shortly after joining LT. I don’t think I had even heard of Trollope before becoming active here, but I fell in love with his writing immediately. [Can You Forgive Her?] is the first book in Trollope’s Palliser series. I had a little trepidation about reading the Palliser novels because I have heard that they get a bit bogged down in British politics of the day. This may be a problem for me in subsequent novels in the series, but this one had very little politics, and it was all very easy to comprehend as it mainly had to do with the ambitions of the characters rather than actual political theories or maneuverings.

At the heart of the novel is the character Alice Vavasor. She is an otherwise steady and wise young woman having problems deciding on a husband. As the novel opens she is engaged to the smart, handsome, steady, and slightly boring John Grey. In her past, she had a short engagement to her wild and interesting cousin, George Vavasor. His behavior resulted in her breaking off the engagement. George’s sister, Kate, still hopes to reunite her brother and Alice and they go on a trip to Europe together with John Grey’s blessing. Long story short, Alice decides to break off her engagement with John Grey to the horror of all of her relations. The novel explores her subsequent decisions and moral dilemmas and her actions are the reason for the title, [Can You Forgive Her?]. To resolve the novel, the reader waits to see if her friends can forgive her, John Grey can forgive her, the reader can forgive her, and most importantly, can Alice forgive herself?

All of this moralizing and the mood changes of Alice could have gotten old, except that of course Trollope has several other story lines going on. In fact, there are two other love triangles. My favorite character, Lady Glencora, is struggling to reconcile herself to a marriage with rising political star, Plantagenet Palliser. She is still in love with a handsome but penniless man named Burgo Fitzgerald, but her family convinced her to bring her enormous wealth to a more “deserving” husband, Palliser. She and Alice become friends and their lives intertwine. Added to this is the more humorous and light love triangle between Kate and Alice’s older Aunt Greenow. She is recently widowed and wealthy. She has two suitors vying for her hand in marriage.

I love Trollope’s writing. He writes fantastic female characters that are more than just caricatures or love interests. I also absolutely love his authorial commentary. I love knowing what he thinks about the characters he has created and the subtle foreshadowing he does. I’m really excited about continuing the series! ( )
4 vote japaul22 | Jan 25, 2015 |
Anthony Trollope is virtually unknown in Germany; I had never heard of him before I saw him mentioned somewhere as John Major’s favourite author. According to the records of the German National Library, there were no translations before 1957. This is a pity, because he is so much more accessible than other Victorian authors.
His style is less flowery or convoluted than Eliot, Dickens, and their ilk, and his female characters are not at all what I’m used to in Victorian novels. In this particular instance, we have three either contemplating marriage or settling into it: Alice, Glencora and Arabella. The most striking thing for me is that they are pretty clear-eyed, almost resigned about marriage being the least bad option for a woman in these days, and trying to make the best of it.
One other thing I noticed is that this is a strictly middle and upper class world: the odd maid-cum-confidante apart, the lower orders are mere decoration. ( )
1 vote MissWatson | Jul 15, 2014 |
At 750 pages, overly long, and sometimes repetitive - probably because it started life in serial form. The novel follows three very different heiresses. A merry widow, who chooses a handsome wastrel, confident she will be able to keep him within bounds. The delightful Lady Glencora Palliser who is pressurised by family into making a brilliant match to a politician she finds dull. And Alice, the subject of the title, torn between two men, neither of whom she wants (or needs) to marry.

Cora is naughty, and lights up the pages. But Alice seemed so humourless and reticent I really couldn't be bothered to 'forgive her' or not, and I certainly didn't understand her.

Trollope's genial intrusive narration though may make me pick up the next Palliser novel sometime in the future, in the hopes it will concentrate more on the delightfully indiscrete Cora. ( )
  LARA335 | Apr 24, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anthony Trollopeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bayley, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Birch, DinahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Skilton, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, TimothyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Whether or no, she, whom you are to forgive, if you can, did or did not belong to the Upper Ten Thousand of this our English world, I am not prepared to say with any strength of affirmation.
She wanted the little daily assurance of her supremacy in the man's feelings, the constant touch of love, half accidental half contrived, the passing glance of the eye telling perhaps of some little joke understood only between them two rather than of love, the softness of an occasional kiss given here and there when chance might bring them together, some half-pretended interest in her little doings, a nod, a wink, a shake of the head, or even a pout. It should have been given to her to feed upon such food as this daily, and then she would have forgotten Burgo Fitzgerald.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430865, Paperback)

The first novel in Anthony Trollope's "Palliser" series, "Can You Forgive Her?" traces the fortunes of three very different women in an exploration of whether social obligations and personal happiness can ever coincide. This "Penguin Classics" edition is edited with an introduction by Stephen Wall. Alice Vavasor cannot decide whether to marry her ambitious but violent cousin George or the upright and gentlemanly John Grey - and finds herself accepting and rejecting each of them in turn. Increasingly confused about her own feelings and unable to forgive herself for such vacillation, her situation is contrasted with that of her friend Lady Glencora - forced to marry the rising politician Plantagenet Palliser in order to prevent the worthless Burgo Fitzgerald from wasting her vast fortune. In asking his readers to pardon Alice for her transgression of the Victorian moral code, Trollope created a telling and wide-ranging account of the social world of his day. In his introduction, Stephen Wall examines Trollope's skill in depicting the strengths and weaknesses of his characters, their behaviour and inner lives. This edition also includes notes and a bibliography. Anthony Trollope (1815-82) had an unhappy childhood characterised by a stark contrast between his family's high social standing and their comparative poverty. He wrote his earliest novels while working as a Post Office inspector, but did not meet with success until the publication of the first of his 'Barsetshire novels', "The Warden" (1855). As well as writing over forty novels, including such popular works as "Can You Forgive Her?" (1865), "Phineas Finn" (1869), "He Knew He Was Right" (1869) and "The Way We Live Now" (1875) Trollope is credited with introducing the postbox to England. If you enjoyed "Can You Forgive Her?", you might enjoy Henry James' "The Ambassadors", also available in "Penguin Classics".

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:47 -0400)

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CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? is the first of the six Palliser novels. In this volume Trollope examines parliamentary election and marriage, politics and privacy. He dissects the Victorian upper class. Issues and people shed their pretenses under his patient, ironic probe. But it is on women and their predicament that Trollope particularly focuses. "What should a woman do with her life?" asks Alice Vavasor. And each woman, being different and unique, has her own answer, from the uncomfortably married Lady Glencora to the coquettish Mrs. Greenow, to Alice's clear-headed cousin Kate.… (more)

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