Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Can You Forgive Her? Possibly not.


I've been reading, rather slowly, Anthony Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? It's the first of the Palliser series, apparently - that is, the books that focus on political life rather than Church.

I was interested to see this in the introduction to the Wikipedia entry that summarises the book: The satirical periodical Punch mocked the work, referring to it as Can You Stand Her? due to its writers' irritation at Alice's ineptitude in deciding between her two suitors. (Moreover, in his book On Writing, Stephen King makes light of the book's length, joking that, for modern audiences, a more appropriate title might be Can You Possibly Finish It?)

Sadly this book has little of the wit and humour that make the Barsetshire series such a delight to read. The main character, Alice, spends most of her time being decisive in not choosing one man or another. Apart from that it's hard to know why she should be interesting. She's certainly irritating, and is so reflective that you wonder that she ever gets around to anything in life. In fact, that may be her problem - she really doesn't have anything to do, either as a character, nor in terms of occupation. (At least she doesn't spend her time worrying about the best acne treatment for her spots, which is what a women of her ilk in a modern novel might do.)

And that goes for the other women in the book as well: Lady Glencora is the socialite, but apart from arranging parties is pretty much free to do 'nothing.' And Mrs Greenow spends most of her time irritating us with her own flirting between two different male characters and telling them both that she can't possibly have another relationship because her beloved husband has only been dead for a few months (the number of months varies as to the time of day, seemingly). He left her 40,000 pounds, incidentally, which makes her very attractive to men, particularly the penniless pretender, Captain Bellfield.
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