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on 6 July 2012
Is this Trollope's finest work? A silly question perhaps, certainly one without a definitive answer, but it is my favourite at any rate. I have read close to 20 of Trollope's novels, including the famous Palliser & Barchester sextets and The Way We Live Now, and was pleasantly surprised at just how good this lesser known work is.

The title of the book refers to an extended family, including the squire, Sir Hugh, and the hero of the book, Harry, Sir Hugh's cousin and the son of the indolent Reverend Henry Clavering, who as the second son of Sir Hugh's grandfather was installed as the rector of the parish, although he leaves all the work to his zealous curate, Mr. Saul.

Harry is a bright & attractive young man who at the start of the book is jilted by Julia Brabazon, the poor, debt-ridden but beautiful sister of Sir Hugh's wife. She has instead decided to marry the dissolute but wealthy Lord Ongar. Harry throws up a potential career in the Church to train as a civil engineer, and in the course of his training meets & proposes to the daughter of his employer, Florence Burton.

But Harry gets himself into trouble when Julia, now the widowed Lady Ongar, returns from Italy, and he falls for her again (with her wealth as well as her beauty affecting his judgement): `it was not that he had ceased to love Florence: but that the glare of the candle had been too bright, & he had scorched himself'. He also effectively proposes to Julia (who is ignorant of his earlier betrothal). The rest of the book is devoted to how this situation is resolved.

There are 2 main reasons why I rate this book so highly in Trollope's oeuvre. Firstly the plot is tightly drawn, without too many rambling sub-plots one sees in other novels. The only significant one is the dogged wooing of Harry's sister by Mr. Saul in the face of the determined opposition of the girl's father, and Harry himself, which compares & contrasts nicely with Harry's more complex love life.

Secondly, the characterisation is superb, with great psychological subtlety, which is the more impressive when one considers the constraints imposed on the author by Victorian morality. There are several memorable characters, including the ghastly Sir Hugh, Harry himself, and Julia Brabazon. Even the minor characters like Mr Saul, the Reverend Henry & Lady Clavering are well drawn. The only ones which don't fully work are Sir Hugh's brother Archie & his friend `Boodles', who are cartoonish buffoons.

Sir Hugh is the archetypal `hard man'. He is cruel and selfish, neglecting his wife who bores him and rarely visiting his estate at Clavering Park. However he is not the stereotypical Victorian villain, and shows his mettle in the way he dismisses Julia's venal companion Sophie Gordeloup when she tries to extort money from him by threatening to reveal details about Julia's marriage. He is even briefly sympathetic when his only son and heir dies, although that sympathy is quickly lost when he implicitly blames his grieving wife: `He was always poor and sickly. The Claverings, generally, have been strong'.

Harry is the `hero' of the story but he is anything but heroic. He clearly is not going to make a success of the tough life of a civil engineer he has chosen for himself, and it is because of his weakness and indecision that he ends up effectively betrothed to 2 women. His subsequent illness is never wholly convincing, as it conveniently allows him to be nursed at home in Clavering rather than resolve his problems. In the end he is saved from the consequences of actions more by good fortune than by his own resolve.

But Julia Brabazon is possibly the most memorable character. She certainly has not learnt from experience in marrying for money, given the loveless marriage of her sister, but she is clear-eyed and decisive, in contrast to the hapless Harry. Trollope can still evoke sympathy for her by having her explain the options open to a poor gentlewoman: `Harry, you can choose the world...but I have no choice- no choice but to be married well, or to go out like the snuff of a candle'. She is clearly marked by her year of marriage to Lord Ongar, who was probably dying when she married him. He was an alcoholic and there are dark hints of worse ailments (Trollope could obviously not make any explicit reference to syphilis given the mores of the time). She is shunned by society on her return, & has no other companion than the dreadful Madame Gordeloup. She cannot enjoy her wealth, being made to feel an unwelcome outsider on her visit to Ongar Park, and tries to give it away in the end. The most powerful scenes in the book are when Florence's sister confronts Julia, and then when the 2 rivals for Harry meet at the end. Julia acts honourably throughout most of the book, but she can never erase the effect of her fateful decision to make a cynical marriage: as Mrs [Henry] Clavering says to Lady Clavering, who of course has recently lost her son & her husband `She has lost what I'm sure you will never lose, her own self-esteem'.

As is inevitable with Trollope, the book is uneven, with a few longeurs, especially about 2/3 to ¾ of the way through. When we learn that Sir Hugh and his brother Archie are to go on a sailing trip in the North Sea, it is pretty easy to guess how things will turn out, but it takes a long time to get there. Maybe the serialisation requirements took precedence here, as so often with this author.

I read the Kindle edition. There are quite a few typos, but certainly not enough to spoil one's enjoyment. It would be churlish to complain anyway given that it is free, and this edition is perfectly serviceable.
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The novel starts when Harry Clavering's intended decides to jilt him for a Duke. Two years later, when the Duke is dead having left her a title and a fortune, she returns to England, but Harry is already betrothed to his employer's daughter.

The book revolves around his dilemma as to whether he should stay with his first love or remain with his betrothed.

A longish book with little story and lots of comment - both on Society's mores and Harry's morals. Nonetheless interesting but not the rollicking good tale that The Vicar of Bullhampton or other Trollope novels are. I had to plough through it rather. Worth it for a Trollope fan but not a good Trollope novel to kick off with.
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on 1 November 2013
I do love a good Trollope. Rattled through this in 3 days and enjoyed every minute. So much more fun than Dickens. Plenty moralising but less lists and whimsy. Not nearly so good as a full run at the Pallisers or Barsetshire so don't pick this up if you just finished them but ideal for those moments when you prefer to read idly but wisely. Trollope understands the essential triviality of the human condition. He is a supreme and underrated satirist and humorist. This is not his best but it's better than Castle Richmond and considerably better than just about any novel you might pick up at the airport shop. And it is free on kindle.
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on 14 June 2010
As a previous reviewer has said, the story is perhaps rather slight: Harry Clavering's dilemma whether to go for the "tarnished" charms of his beautiful, aristocratic first love, or the solid worth of his middle class gem of a second love (and no guesses as to which he choses, this being Trollope!); but underneath lurks rather more. Indeed, the Claverings is a very interesting book on a number of fronts.
In the first place (and the point that most reviewers bring to the fore) it offers a rather wider picture of Victorian society than many Trollope novels. Harry Clavering is from a county family, and we become familiar with his uncle's home, and the rounds of the clergyman in the area, teaching and assisting with the needy. But he decides to "branch out" and become an engineer, and we thus become acquainated with the solid middle classes who are peopling the engineering world and changing the face of London, Paris, Moscow - as well as other country spots away from Harry's home. Indeed one of the side pleasures of this novel is the picture of Victorian London before the advent of the tube, when one of its advocaates walks home every day from the Strand to his home in Onslow Crescent (in the days when a middle class no more than adequately salaried engineer could afford to live there!) - and thinks nothing of such a walk, except to complain that there is no such thing as comfy boots!
Another major point of interest is the Victorian moral code: Florence Brabazon, Harry's first love, is the daughter of an aristocratic neer do well who has spent all her money. She accordingly does the prudent thing and marries an older man (not, as the previous reviewer says a Duke, but certainly a Lord) with stacks of loot. He treats her like dirt and spreads stories about her virtue, and the combination of the marriage (which is accounted a wrong) and the gossip is enough to ruin her in the eyes of society. The point of fascination is to ask oneself - exactly what did she do wrong? How was the poor girl to sustain herself after her father's death? Was it in chosing a Lord with too much loot that she erred, because surely if she had married someone of her own rank with a competence, no-one would blink an eye at such a suitable match? The proof of this we see in the position of Harry's sister Fanny, who has been brainwashed into believing that a marriage is not "suitable" unless an adequate modicum of money is involved, and whose very nice parents believe that her intended should at least be of the gentlemanly classes ...
But for me the particular pleasure in the book comes in viewing it as a companion piece to my favourite - The Small House at Allington, of whose story this is in some ways a reflection. In The Small House the "hero" loves a nice girl, whose virtues we clearly see, is tempted by the charms of an aristocratic wife (who is actually a very vapid creature) and succumbs, thereby ruining his life. Here Harry, a younger, less impressive person than Crosbie, is tempted by his first aristocratic love, whose charms, beauties and real worth are all made very present to our minds; and yet he choses the nice girl (who is by no means a beauty, and whose solid virtues do not sing from the page, at least not until quite late in the book). Of course being Trollope (who I regard as in many ways a great feminist writer, in that he writes strong women and regards most men as being as weak as water) Harry's decision is actually made for him by the various women who surround him ....
Not one of the greatest of Trollope's works, but a very fine book, with a myriad of pleasures along the way.
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Trollope is my fall back-novelist; the one I return to when I want a book that I know I'll enjoy. This novel is no exception

(Briefly) Harry Clavering, the hero, is torn between his love for two women. Both are deserving in their different ways, and for once, it's not obvious which (if either) he will eventually marry. As always with Trollpe novels, there are money problems, titles, foxhunting, aristocracy, snobbery...but above all, his wit, and his wonderful insight into human beings and their behaviour. The tension in this novel mounts as Harry arrives at a point where he must make hisdecision, while the other characters advise, judge, and generally do what people do in these situations. Trollope never uses one sentence where two or more will do, and no doubt nowadays, such a novel would be ruthlessly edited. But that's Trollope, and I for one am happy to take him as he is. As one reviewer said, perhaps not a novel for a reader new to Trollope (Barchester Towers would be a better bet), but I loved this novel, and only wonder why it's not better known. Highly recommended.
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on 9 June 2016
This is pure Trollope and one I haven't read before. The book is huge, an American imprint, and most unwieldy - not a bedtime read nor one to pop into a handbag, I am afraid. I really must check the printing format more carefully. However, good plot, lots of lovely Trollopian misunderstanding and good chap/ bad chap stuff, but it won't quite be happy every after for all.
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on 30 March 2015
Having thoroughly enjoyed Barsetshire/Palliser chronicles, I was pleased to find another couple of highly enjoyable books by Anthony Trollope. The Claverings even refer to some of our old faithful characters, while Miss MacKenzie is of a different storyline altogether. I just love the way Trollope 'chats away' to his readers - I call it 'comfort reading'!
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on 13 November 2013
I found the book readable, though I did get a big bogged down in the middle parts. It seemed to me that Trollope couldn't decide whether his 'heroine' or his 'hero' should win in the end and I thought the shipwreck and loss of the two heirs before Harry was rather too well signposted. I did enjoy reading it, though.
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on 27 May 2011
This is another good book by Trollope that is difficult to find in print - also free.
Spoilt by American spelling and some typo's.
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on 16 August 2015
Trollope at his usual readable standard
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