Dr. Thorne is the third installment in Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles series. After the machinations of the first two novels set around the Cathedral close of Barchester (modelled on Salisbury -for which see Constable's wonderful painting above) we're largely away from the clerical millieu in this novel having moved to the Barsetshire countryside, and the village of Greshamsbury. Here we meet the middle-aged hero of the novel, the eponymous Dr. Thorne and his niece Mary, along with the Squire's family and their aristocratic relations. Mary and Frank, the son of the squire, are in love, but cannot marry due to the impoverishment of Frank's family. Frank is destined to marry money, and Mary, in any case, has a scandalous background being the illegitimate offspring of Dr. Thorne's dastardly brother and a village girl. The novel is largely concerned with money, or rather the lack of it, and status, and what gives status in society.
Trollope always amazes me by how up-to-date his novels are, although written around the same time as Dickens was writing, I'm always conscious with Dickens that he is very much a child of his time, not least in regard to the way he writes about women. This is not to be critical of Dickens, I'm a big fan, and as far as sheer invention both in character and plot are concerned I would say that he is superior to Trollope. But Trollope could be so easily transplanted to modern times with very few changes. Having worked as an organist for many years the machinations of Barchester Cathedral, for example, ring horribly true. I even met a clergyman once who was the twentieth century embodiment of Slope(!)
Dr. Thorne is set in a very different environment, but there is still so much that is modern about this novel. The central theme of the novel, and what makes it tick, is personal debt - a timely reminder in an era of financial crisis of what a burden debt can be, and what far-reaching consequences it can have for all concerned. His characters, especially his heroines, speak with a surprisingly modern voice, with humour, determination and compassion.
This compassion is notably present with the more tragic characters such as the Scatcherds, a family that have risen above their station by sheer determination, but are about to be torn apart by alcoholism. Young Louis Philippe is portrayed as a bit of a grotesque, but this is tinged with pity, his descent into alcoholism is seen as pitiable rather than purely repulsive.
Throughout the novel Trollope's humanity shines through. He's not concerned with big themes or the world stage, what matters to him is the day-to-day life of the middle classes and their relatives, friends and servants. This sounds rather humdrum but is in fact endearing, and completely absorbing. You may, like me, sometimes have wished that you could meet characters from literature, and I'm sure it would be very exciting, if somewhat exhausting, to meet, for example, Samuel Pickwick, but for a next-door neighbour who'd be available to help in a crisis you couldn't go wrong with Dr. Thorne.