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Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
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Can You Forgive Her?

by Anthony Trollope

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Palliser Novels (1)

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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! ( )
3 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 |
I loved the characters (Mrs. Greenow and Lady Glencora especially), and I also loved the witty narrative voice that sometimes reminded me of a less bitchy Austen.

Feminist, but at the same time, very hard on women for the choices that they do make. I have to admit to a bit of disappointment that Alice's reconciliation with John Grey can only come about through her defeat and subjugation. That sucks, even if it does make her happy. I mean, to answer the titular question, yes, I can forgive Alice Vavasor; the men around her are maddening and imperfect in unappealing ways. But forgiving her cousin, her father, or even forgiving John Gray for his smug condescension--well, that's another matter. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
I put off reading this for a long time because I unforgivably confused CYFH? with 'He Knew He Was Right', the mini-series version of which was utterly horrible. I knew they were different, but something just held me back. I even read Phineas Finn before this, which was a real mistake.

CYFH? does what really, really great literature does: asks very difficult questions about life, but in such a way that you don't realize they're being asked, because the thing is just so entertaining. The question, in a much less entertaining form, is not whether you can forgive Alice Vavasour for turning down the genial John Grey; it is whether you ought to or ought not to enter public life, how you ought to think about public and private life in general, and, in the end, why we put up with a world that allows the rich to get all the best things, and shunts the poor off to its margins.

Grey prefers private life, and is very rich. Palliser prefers public life, and is very rich. George prefers public life, and is very poor. Fitzgerald prefers private life, and is very poor. George and Palliser share an idealism about politics, but the realities of their private lives are different enough that (plot spoiler!) Palliser triumphs in private and public, while George loses out in both. Fitzgerald and Grey are both idealistic about private life, but the rich Grey can basically afford to be, while the poorish Fitzgerald cannot, and suffers for it.

By the twentieth century, this plot would have presented George and Fitzgerald as wonderful, kind men trodden down despite themselves by the system; Palliser and Grey would have been evil, evil, evil capitalists. But Trollope knows what should be obvious to anyone with any social conscience: poverty destroys people, and makes us worse than we could be. So George and Fitzgerald (who aren't really that poor in the grand scheme of things, as Trollope is careful to show us) suffer and become vicious; Grey and Palliser do not suffer, and become better men. Just in case you miss the point, the poor man who *does* get the lady ends up as a better person after she starts paying for all his stuff. That's how it works. Stories of virtuous, proud, upstanding impoverished men and women are nonsense.

And that's without even touching on the other side of the three marriage plots, the women, and their own follies, braveries and self-indulgences. And also without touching on Trollope's clear eyed presentation of late Victorian society: there's no need for ideological trickiness here. Everyone pushes in the direction of straight cynicism, because that's what happens when you live these kinds of lives.

One of the best nineteenth century novels I've read--imagine Pride and Prejudice with an extra marriage plot and a greater balance between the problems of men and women. ( )
3 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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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.
Quotations
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)

(see all 8 descriptions)

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)

» see all 6 descriptions

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