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Introduction by Lady Antonia Fraser
529 pages with 24 original illustrations by John Everett Millais
London, Smith, Elder and Co., 1861. 3v.
Originally published in The Cornhill Magazine, Jan. 1860-April 1861.
Mark Robarts, an easy-going young vicar, is given the living of Framley by his old school friend Lord Lufton. He foolishly signs two notes of guarantee for the unscrupulous MP Nate Sowerby for a considerable sum of money. Sowerby makes little or no attempt to pay this note, leaving Mark facing scandal and ruin. Mark’s sister Lucy comes to live at Framley parsonage and Lord Lufton soon falls in love with her, much to the displeasure of his mother. Lady Lufton has other plans for her son, specifically Griselda Grantly, daughter of the Archdeacon.
Lord Lufton spurns such manipulations and instead proposes to Lucy. Mindful of Lady Lufton’s feelings, and knowing through common sense and her own keen intelligence that her displeasure is almost insurmountable, Lucy turns her suitor down, declaring that she cannot marry him unless Lady Lufton herself sanctions the union. It is only through Lucy’s selfless and tender ministrations to Mrs Josiah Crawley, wife of the penurious ‘perpetual curate of Hogglestock’, that Lady Lufton begins to perceive, through the thick veil of habitual snobbery that she wears, the real merit of Lucy’s character. It is she who asks Lucy to accept her son’s offer. Mark Robarts, meanwhile, as a result of his foolishness, finds the bailiffs breathing down his neck, and it is left to Lord Lufton to step in and save his friend and his future brother in law from scandal and disgrace.
I had got into my head an idea of what I meant to write, – a morsel of the biography of an English clergyman who should not be a bad man, but one led into temptation by his own youth and by the unclerical accidents of the life of those around him. The love of his sister for the young lord was an adjunct necessary, because there must be love in a novel. And then by placing Framley Parsonage near Barchester, I was able to fall back on my old friends Mrs Proudie and the Archdeacon. Out of these slight elements I fabricated a hodge-podge ….
There was little fox-hunting, and a little tuft-hunting, some Christian virtue and some Christian cant. There was no heroism and no villainy. There was much Church, but more love-making.
The story is thoroughly English, and is told with a tremendous exuberance, particularly in its depiction of the ointment Heiress Martha Dunstable, which betrays the author’s joy in finding himself once more in the environs of Barchester.