Plot summary (with spoilers): Can You Forgive Her?, in typical Trollope style, is an expansive work that contains multiple plotlines and numerous characters to keep track of. The main story involves Alice Vavasor, a woman in her mid-twenties. As the novel opens, Alice is engaged to a country gentleman named John Grey. It’s then revealed that she had previously been engaged to her cousin George, but decided to call it off because of various reasons that included opposition from her father and wealthy grandfather.
This previous engagement still plays a big role in Alice’s life, particularly since she’s good friends with cousin Kate (George’s sister) and therefore runs into George on a regular basis. Indeed Alice raises more than a few eyebrows when she proposes going on a tour of Europe with Kate — with George serving as their guide and guardian. John Grey, though a bit reluctant at first, gives his blessing to the arrangement. Sure enough, Alice and George experience a rekindling of the old feelings, and upon Kate’s urgings, Alice breaks off with John Grey and promises herself to George again.
This wishy-washy stuff continues throughout the rest of the novel, with Alice eventually realizing what a vile, base character George is and ending up with John — who amazingly takes her back after all she put him through.
Other characters and subplots include: Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser, and Lady Glencora’s scandalous love of the cad Burgo Fitzgerald; Mrs. Greenow, the wealthy aunt of Alice, George, and Kate, who, as a widow, is choosing between suitors Samuel Cheesacre and Captain Bellfield; George Vavasor’s relentless pursuit of a Parliament seat, which ultimately leads to his financial ruin; and the issue of old Mr. Vavasor’s will and its attendant property dispersal when he finally dies.
- Having thoroughly enjoyed Trollope’s writing style in The Way We Live Now, I was looking forward to another lengthy journey with him. He didn’t disappoint, as far as style goes. Somehow, Trollope is a pleasure to read even when he’s talking about boring stuff — if that makes any sense.
- I just felt this novel went on far too long. The satirical magazine Punch famously said of this book, “Can you finish her?” and that pretty much sums up the reading experience. The story goes on and on and on… long after the characters and their petty dilemmas have worn out their welcomes.
- Most of the secondary characters in this novel simply weren’t interesting enough to warrant all the time Trollope spent in talking about them. I understand that Lady Glencora and Mr. Palliser are main characters in future books, so I can overlook Trollope’s preoccupation with them. But the Greenow-Cheesacre-Bellfield love triangle was completely insipid. Does it matter to the reader that Mrs. Greenow ended up with Capt. Bellfield? Probably not, as neither of them was the least bit memorable.
- Alice was a terrible protagonist. I didn’t like her at all, with the way she constantly flip-flopped about which man she wanted to be with. I wish John Grey hadn’t forgiven her. She deserved to be stuck with George and his disfigured face and bad temper for the rest of their lives. They both should have been exiled for wasting everyone’s time like this.
Well, it saddens me to have to do this, because I so wanted to like everything Anthony Trollope has written. But Can You Forgive Her? was not a good book at all. None of the characters were worth rooting for, their conflicts were all commonplace and dull, and the whole thing dragged on endlessly. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.