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Can You Forgive Her? (Palliser novels)

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Can You Forgive Her? is the first book in the series of six Palliser novels (also known as the "Parliamentary Novels") by Anthony Trollope.


The common thread of the series is the wealthy aristocrat and politician Plantagenet Palliser and (in all but the last book) his wife Lady Glencora. The plots involve British and Irish politics in varying degrees, specifically in and around Parliament. The Pallisers do not always play a major role; in The Eustace Diamonds (the third novel) they only comment on the main action.


I am listening to this on an unabridged audiobook read by Timothy West, who was also the reader of the Chronicles of Barsetshire which I have listened to at intervals over the last couple of years. Hearing the same voice reading a narrative that is recognisably Trollope is very comfortable, and though only two CDs in I am expecting to enjoy this, even if it is politics.


It was serialised for BBC television in 1974, and although I didn't follow it I must have seen an episode or two along the way, as I remember very clearly Susan Hampshire in the role of Lady Glencora.

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The 'her' of the title is Alice Vavasour, and what we are asked if we can forgive is the way she treats the two men in her life, and the consequent outrage to her feminiity.

At the start of the book she is engaged to John Grey, a country gentleman who is approved of by her father and her upperclass relatives.  Prior to this she was engaged to her reckless cousin George, but after a particularly irresponsible period in his life she, with the encouragement of her family, broke off that engagement.

Alice still has a soft spot for George, and with additional pressure from Kate to assist him take up a political career she agrees to jilt John Grey and the engagement to her cousin is reinstated - but the marriage is not to take place for a year.

She quickly comes to regret this engagement, and realises that she really loves John Grey, but insists that she keeps her promise to give George money for his election campaigns. George is furious at her coldness towards him and vows to take every penny she has.


Alongside that plot is the story of Glencora and Plantganet Palliser.

Lady Glencora isn't yet 20, but has been married to her not-yet-thirty-but-seemimg-much-older husband for a year, without any sign of an heir. This is causing concern because Plantaganet is the nephew and heir to the Duke of Omnium (of Borsetershire), and a male child is needed for the succession.

Before her marriage Glencora had an unsuitable attachment to Burgo Fitzgerald, a strikingly beautiful young man with no scruples, and still harbours feelings for him, exacerbated by the seemingly cold, austere unfeeling attitude of her husband, and guilt about the lack of an heir.

Burgo makes plans to elope with Glencora,, but his plans are foiled. Plantaganet gives up his chance of a place in The Cabinet to take Glencora away on a year-long European tour, taking Alice as her companion.


A third 'romantic' trio is that of Kate's Aunt Greenow, recently widowed, and left very comfortably off after her marriage to a much older gentleman. She has two suitors who she plays off against each other, Mr Cheeseacre, a wealthy farmer, and penniless soldier, Captain Bellfield.


I had to suppress my feminist outrage at some of the C19 attitudes, but that's only to be expected in a C19 novel ;)

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