Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope.

Can You Forgive Her? is the first of Anthony Trollope's 'Palliser' or 'Parliamentary Novels' and was published in serial form between 1864-5, then in book form in 1865. This series includes:
  1. Can You Forgive Her? (1864-5)
  2. Phineas Finn (1867-8)
  3. The Eustace Diamonds (1871-3)
  4. Phineas Redux (1874)
  5. The Prime Minister (1875-6)
  6. The Duke's Children (1879-80)
One of the central characters in Can You Forgive Her? is Alice Vavasor who is unable to decide between her two suitors - John Grey or her cousin George Vavasor, Grey's absolute opposite. Trollope writes of her ponderings in the early part of the novel:
With all her doubts Alice never doubted her love for Mr. Grey. Nor did she doubt his character, nor his temper, nor his means. But she had gone on thinking of the matter till her mind had become filled with some undefined idea of the importance to her of her own life. What should a woman do with her life? There had arisen round her a flock of learned ladies asking that question, to whom it seems that the proper answer has never yet occurred. Fall in love, marry the man, have two children, and live happy ever afterwards. I maintain that answer has as much wisdom in it as any other that can be given;—or perhaps more. The advice contained in it cannot, perhaps, always be followed to the letter; but neither can the advice of the other kind, which is given by the flock of learned ladies who ask the question.
1923 edition of The Noble Jilt.
And this is the crux of the matter: "What should a woman do with her life?" To complicate matters, Alice was already engaged to John however she broke the engagement: she is a "jilt" (a "noble jilt" in fact, which was the title of Trollope's play written in 1850 but not published until 1923 - the prototype of Can You Forgive Her? with Margaret de Wynter as Alice and Count Upsel of Lindenbrock as John Grey). Breaking an engagement in the Victorian times was a serious business: an engagement was seen as legally binding, and the "jilted" party was entitled to sue. There are no such legal wranglings in Can You Forgive Her? but there is confusion, irritation, and some bad feeling.

As this goes on, the second strand to the novel develops - that of Alice's friend Lady Glencora, quite possibly the greatest Trollopian heroine I've yet come across, and her dismal marriage to Plantagenet Palliser. Their marriage was arranged, and both parties wealthy, although Lady Glencora is the wealthiest of the two. Plantagenet is a hard working parliamentarian with firm ambitions to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is so dour, and serious to the point of being a bore, but Lady Glencora has such vitality and charisma. Throughout the novel she regrets not marrying Burgo Fitzgerald, a man she was once engaged to: Lady Glencora, like Alice, was a "jilt".

Finally, in what is the least interesting strand of the story, we have Mrs. Greenow, a widow, has herself two suitors - Mr. Cheesacre and the pauper soldier Captain Bellfield. Now who will she choose?

Can You Forgive Her? is a great Trollope novel with a somewhat rocky start (I would advise anyone who begins it and finds it a chore to keep ploughing through the first 150 pages or so). But it picks up and gathers speed - it's an exciting read, dark at times and shocking (particularly regarding George Vavasor), and completely enthralling. When reading it I was so absorbed in the events, though I should admit that there were times when I read it a little too fast: that was honestly out of pure excitement - it's such a good book!

And there's a part of me that is relieved as well - I wanted to read the Palliser novels, and even if I hadn't have enjoyed this I would have persevered, but one of my happiest reading times was last year reading the Chronicles of Barsetshire and I now know I'm likely to have this again. Hurrah for Trollope!

To finish, some illustrations. The first set are by Phiz for the first instalment in 1864 -

And the second set are by C. R. Grant, Victor A. Searles, Thomas Blinks, Leslie W. Lee, Hy Leonard, and R. B. Morrison for the 1900 edition of The Writings of Anthony Trollope (vol. I, II, and III)
By C. R. Grant (Vol. I)
By Victor A. Searles (Vol. I)
By Thomas Blinks (Vol. I)
By R. B. Morrison (Vol. I)
By C. R. Grant (Vol. II)
By Leslie W. Lee (Vol. II)
By R. B. Morrison (Vol. II)
By Victor A. Searles (Vol. II)
By C. R. Grant (Vol. III)
By Leslie W. Lee (Vol. III)
By Victor A. Searles (Vol. III)
By Hy. Leonard (Vol. III)
Further Reading


  1. I can't wait to read this some day! I loved Trollope's The Warden and Barchester Towers (I need to read the rest in the Chronicles of Barsetshire).

    1. I loved the Chronicles - I hope you enjoy them :D

  2. This was the book that turned me into a Trollope lover, so I'm delighted that you appreciated it too. Now I'm looking forward to finding out how you get on with Phineas!

    1. I'm looking forward to it! Starting possibly this weekend, or else next week :)

  3. Great review! I've had these books recommended to me before so I should probably get reading some Trollope soon. I look forward to reading this :)

    1. Thank you :) I hope you enjoy it, it's such a good read. One of my favourite Trollopes now :)

  4. I'm so glad to have another Trollope series to look forward to. I'm still half way through Barsetshire; I must stop adding books or I'll never get to the rest! I assume the Pallisers is a little more serious than Barsetshire --- is that what you found? I expect it to be more overtly political, although there are many political maneuverings going on in Barsetshire that have nothing to do with government.

    1. To echo Tom, no I don't think it's more serious so far, but I am just at the beginning :)

  5. Not more serious. The Eustace Diamonds, in progress, is turning out to be as funny as Trollope gets.

    Also, not more serious ethically. Comparably serious to the Barchester books.

    1. Agreed, and now I'm looking forward to The Eustace Diamonds!

  6. I am loving the Barsetshire Chronicles... and Trollope. Maybe I'll read this series next year!

    1. Trollope's amazing - so into Trollope right now :)


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