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on 23 January 2007
I started reading the Palliser novels after seeing a review describing them as "still the best description of British political life". They do, indeed, contain a lot of politics - particularly the later volumes, "Phineas Finn" and "Phineas Redux"; and this remains astonishingly contemporary. But the most up-to-date aspect of this extraordinary series of books is the sexual politics, as a series of vividly drawn women and men struggle to find happiness between social convention and sexual attraction. "Can You Forgive Her", which features the headstrong Lady Glencora Palliser and the intense Alice Vavasor both torn between desirable rakes and steady pillars of society, is to my mind one of the best of the series. It's also very funny, alive with irony and sophisticated wit.

For: beautiful writing, unforgettable characters, entertaining read.

Against: nothing. But it is quite long.
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on 30 June 2017
Wonderful Trollope writing. His characters are so real, I seem to know them so well. I am hooked on his books. Working my way through them. Great stuff.
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on 23 April 2008
"Can you forgive her" is the best Trollope book I have ever read and although I am far from having read them all, I must have been through at least 12 of them. In "Can you forgive her?" spirited Alice Vavasor cannot reconcile herself to the idea of marrying the man she truly loves because his sedate style of life doesn't agree with Alice's idea that people who have knowledge and opportunity should make something useful of their lives.As a woman she cannot take an active part in political life and is therefore determined to be the helpmate of someone willing to take risks and to serve his fellowmen. She becomes engaged to her cousin whose political ambitions she respects but finds herself distraught at having promised herself to a man she cannot love... and then starts the long campaign of Mr John Grey, jilted lover of the resolute Alice, who is unable to come to terms with the fact that the woman he cherishes is not to be his and who is determined he shall overcome all obstacles and marry her after all.
The book is peopled with unforgettable characters from the wonderful aunt Greenow to the memorable farmer Cheeseacre who is desperate to get married but whose ideas of romance consist in telling the woman he covets how lucky she is to have been selected as his prospective bride...
And we meet Glencora Palliser, Alice's cousin, a young woman who has been married off to a prominent member of the establishemnt and who is deeply unhappy as she cannot forget the good-for-nothing but handsome and blue-eyed Burgo Fitzgerald her heart longs for...and a host of other people just as brilliantly sketched.
It is a very accomplished book, great fun and superbly written , with fewer repetitions than in other Trollope books, a book I have already read 3 times and which I will re read again as I find it incredibly good, and as its heroine, although complicated and sometimes annoying, is one of the best creations ever brought to life. You cannot help but feel for Alice whose unhappiness is all of her own doing but who will not resign herself to a life of empty social obligations and who yearns for more... and you have to respect her for that!
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VINE VOICEon 13 July 2010
In this, the first of the Palliser novels, Anthony Trollope tells three inter-twined stories. In the first the lovely but indecisive Alice Vavasor dithers awkwardly between the two men in her life - the saintly John Grey (upstanding, respectable, wealthy and, yes, a bit dull) and her cousin George (dashing, charismatic, charming and about as acceptable in polite society as a nine-pound note). In the second the coquettish Mrs Greenow - perpetually dabbing at her eyes in posed melancholy rememberance of her rather uninspiring deceased husband - teases and toys with the affections of her two suitors: the wealthy but oily Mr Cheesacre and the charming but thoroughly shabby Captain Bellfield - hero of many non-existent battles in places no-one can ever find on a map. Finally, in the third strand of the narrative, Trollope tells the tale of Plantagenet Palliser and his efforts to rise in the government of the day while keeping his delightfully free-spirited wife, the very lovely Lady Glencora, under some sort of control.

As ever with Trollope the real joy of the novel lies in the characters. Somehow the people in his books are every bit as memorable as those in Dickens and yet they always manage to remain on the right side of caricature. My personal favourite in Can You Forgive Her? is Mrs Greenow, perpetually playing her two suitors off against each other. At one point Captain Bellfield goes down on bended knee and pursues the widow around her drawing room professing his undying love only to be met with Mrs Greenow's superbly withering comment 'You've pushed all the chairs about, you stupid man'. She's fabulous and she steals every scene in which she appears.

There is, however, a serious message beneath all the comedy. Trollope shows how a woman in Victorian Britain who, for whatever reason, does not have a husband could easily find herself in an awkward situation, both financially and also in terms of the role she plays in society. He also manages to highlight the corrupt nature of politics, where money speaks louder than good intentions, and shows, in the character of Burgo Fitzgerald, how a broken heart can more than off-set the advantages of birth and status. The financial aspects of society are shown in full, but equally Trollope shows how ultimately it is love and friendship that define our lives.

Can You Forgive Her? is a lovely book, full of humour and drama (the fox hunting scene is superbly dramatic, and Mrs Greenow's picnic with her bickering admirers is a comic masterpiece) but with an important message at its heart. Highly recommended.
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on 25 February 2001
The central story of this novel follows the fortunes of Alice Vavasor as she wavers between two men and two lifestyles. The aptly named Mr Grey has the merit of truly caring for Alice rather than her money whereas her cousin George's suit seems based on ambition, freedom from debt and a desire to outdo his rival. The choices seem simple to the reader but Alice's stubborn nature is combined with a fickle moodiness that makes her follow a more complex path. Her attachment to her cousin thus seems harder and harder to understand as it becomes clear she guesses that a spiteful greed and hatred underlies his outer veneer. Later in the story, however, the light from the flawed character of Alice is almost lost in the glare from the vibrant Glencora, wife of the rich and powerful politician Plantagenet Palliser. Lady Glencora has already faced a very similar choice to that of Alice and is now trying to live with that decision. The Pallisers almost steal the show; setting-up the reader to enjoy the series of "Palliser" novels of which this is the first. This tale combines Trollope's excellent use of language with some memorable characters and events, all of which should hold the attention of anyone who enjoys classic satirical fiction.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 October 2017
Trollope is one of those hugely prolific Victorian writers whom I'd never read, until our book club somehow selected this first in his "Palliser" sextet to tackle. Of course, had anyone realized that it weighs in at 800+ pages, I'm very doubtful we would have picked it. In the event, I made it halfway through before finally setting it aside forever. That was plenty to absorb the prose style, narrative form, and overall idea of it for me to know that to read on would be an exercise in tedium.

The story is basically a painfully extended Victorian rom-com, following three relationships. The foremost of these is an on-again, off-again engagement between two cousins, with an earnest, suitable, and kind of boring third suitor working to interject himself. There's also the more comic thread of a wealthy widow being hotly courted by two jerks (one a wealthy landowner, the other a penniless ne'er do well). And finally, there's the awkward marriage of a sober, widely respected member of government to an immature young woman who dithers over seeking out an old flame. Any of these plots is fuel enough for a mediocre film, and the union of the three does not do any of them credit.

Part of the problem is that like many novels originally published in serial form, there's a ton of filler, and pacing is an issue. There's just so much mediocre table-setting to plow through to get to a nice turn of phrase, and so much back and forth to no effect. It's very hard to read this and not be thinking about the probability that the author was scrambling to put pen to paper on deadline and at so many pennies per word. The other major issue is that the woman at the heart of the romantic triangle that's the main plotline (or at least it is of the first half), is simply not interesting.

The book is not entirely without its charms -- Trollope seems interested in systems, and when there are sections that dive into these (such as the financial machinations necessary in standing for Parliament), my interest was piqued. But these are few and far between the many many chapters devoted to hand-wringing letter-writing, and letter-reading. Indeed, the timing of sending letters in order to achieve the correct effect is more interesting than the actual letters. But again, I found scanty portions that interested or delighted -- and I suspect many modern readers will feel similarly.
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on 6 August 2008
This is the first book of the so-called 'Palliser-' or 'political' novels by Anthony Trollope, and if the next 5 volumes are as good as this one that would be nothing short of amazing. If you've read the Barsetshire-chronicles, you'll immediately recognize the inimitable Trollope-style, with its painstakingly detailed analyses of the characters' feelings and emotions. And therefore, remote in time as the settings of these novels may be, ever so much is recognizable and relevant even in the 21st century. I found myself constantly thinking 'I would have felt so too', sympathizing with some characters and disliking others because all of them are painted so life-like you'll feel you've met them in the flesh.

In this particular novel the heroine, Alice Vavasor, is torn between two lovers: her cousin George (ambitious and attractive but with a temper) and the stoic gentleman John Grey. She in turn accepts and then rejects both and is unable to forgive herself for being a 'jilt' (hence the title).

There's nothing much sensational about the plot (is there ever with Trollope?) and the pace is slow, much slower probably than what we've become used to, but nevertheless this is a book thoroughly to be enjoyed.
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on 24 March 2017
Fickleness of women's nature seems to be the dominant theme of the novel. Trolloppe excels in bringing this out in the character of Alice. The various mood swings of this woman and the ultimate realization by her of her own follies are nicely brought out . Quite entertaining . Trolloppe is able to finish off the career of two bad characters of the novel to their logical conclusion one by migration to America and another to a foreign country living on the doles of his relative. Sadly the fate of kate is left hanging .
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on 9 January 2006
As one reviewer below has mentioned, this book does indeed take a while to grab your attention. For me it took at least 300 pages to really get going but once it did there was no putting it down.
Trollope's great trick is to get you to care about people you only half like and partially approve of. He very skillfully shifts your sympathies around from one character to another until by the end of the book you percieve them all fully rounded, with faults and virtues equally. You can even manage a small corner of sympathy for the most clearly 'bad' character in the book George Vavasor.
The other great thing about Trollope is his enormous understanding of women, their social position and the choices they face. What would he make of women today?
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VINE VOICEon 14 September 2011
As a Trollope fan, I was keen to start reading the Palliser series and I have not been disappointed. Like some other reviewers, I found the start of the book a little slow and it took me about 300 pages to really get into the story. It was well worth persisting though, as once I got past this point I was utterly gripped.

I won't surmise the story as others have done so very well. I would say though, that this story has more twists and suprises than Trollope usually gives in my opinion. Usually the story is fairly simple and it is the characters that really occupy his and the readers attention. In Can You Forgive Her? the story is a little more complex than usual, but with the always brilliant Trollope characters alongside, and it really benefits from this. The story also provides a wonderful insight into the political workings of Victorian England and how our political system has got to where it is now, but is never boring for it. However, the main focus is the social and sexual politics of the age and this is acutely observed throughout. Trollope really manages to balance all of these elements of his story to create something really powerful and gripping.

The real strength of the book though is of course the characters, and in particular the Pallisers. Trollope manages to create such rounded characters that even for those who you really want to hate, such as George Vavasor or Burgo Fitzgerald, you still have a kernel of sympathy for them by the end of the book. None are completely bad, none are completely angelic and it is this which makes them so human and real. Trollope describes the characters motivations so perfectly that you feel like you know the people and can understand why they act the way they do, even if you cannot agree.

There is also a real humour and warmth about this book, and particularly so because of the Palliers. Glencora is a wonderful example of a Victorian heroine - witty, wry, passionate, articulate, self-deprecating, a keen observer of society. It is easy to see why Plantagenet falls in love with her so, and he himself is a literary hero to challenge Mr Darcy. I suspect by the end of the series I will be thoroughly in love with him, and want to be Glencora' best friend! These two characters are so wonderfully introduced in this book that I cannot wait to follow them through the series and see what lies in store for them and their marriage. This alone shows what a brilliant story teller Trollope is - he just keeps you wanting more.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone - there is something for everyone here, be it story or character. Persist through the first section of the book, do not be afraid of the old-fashioned English (it is very easy to understand) and you will be well rewarded by a literary delight.
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