"Can You Forgive Her?" traces the fortunes of three very different women in an exploration of whether social obligations and personal happiness can ever coincide. Alice Vavasor cannot decide whether to marry her ambitious but violent cousin George or the upright and gentlemanly John Grey - and finds herself accepting and rejecting each of them in turn. Increasingly confused about her own feelings and unable to forgive herself for such vacillation, her situation is contrasted with that of her friend Lady Glencora - forced to marry the rising politician Plantagenet Palliser in order to prevent the worthless Burgo Fitzgerald from wasting her vast fortune. In asking his readers to pardon Alice for her transgression of the Victorian moral code, Trollope created a telling and wide-ranging account of the social world of his day.
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Don't try to out-Dickens Dickens
In one way at least, a fine Victorian novel. Given the shallowness of the subject matter - will she or won't she marry someone?- it's remarkable how quickly the voluminous number of pages flash by. It has to be a tribute to Trollope's powers of writing engaging prose. But the characters are vapid and superficial, and the "comic" sub-plot comes across as almost embarrassing in its (failed) attempt to emulate Dickens. Comic characters have to embody something to justify their place in a long novel: Trollope's do no more than pass the time between chapters on the main theme.