The Birth of the Pallisers: Can You Forgive Her?

  • John Halperin


“Can we forgive Miss Vavasor? Of course we can, and forget her, too,” said Henry James. His attitude is similar to that of the Spectator’s reviewer: “Can we forgive her? … Certainly, if it were worth while, but we scarcely care enough.” Though the Saturday Review, like almost all other contemporary journals, found a great deal to like in the novel, it pronounced Alice “tedious.”1 They disliked Alice (“uninteresting and unintelligible,” added the Spectator); but they loved Lady Glencora Palliser, found her and George Vavasor brilliant, unforgettable creations, and proclaimed that Trollope in Can You Forgive Her? had surpassed himself in the art of domestic realism. The Greenow-Cheesacre-Bellfield story was dismissed by the Athenaeum as “coarse caricature,” but on the whole critics of the 1860s rated the novel one of Trollope’s best to date (he had already published five of the six Barset novels and Orley Farm, among others). Can You Forgive Her? appeared serially between January 1864 and August 1865 and was published in book form in two volumes, the first in October 1864 and the second in June 1865 (in the Autobiography, p. 149, Trollope says the novel appeared in 1863–4, but his memory is at fault here).


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  1. 4.
    Escott, p. 186; Sadleir devotes two pages of his book to Can You Forgive Her? — the quotation in the text, however, is taken from an Introduction by him to Can You Forgive Her? (London, 1938), I, x; Walpole, p. 100; the Stebbinses, p. 219; Curtis Brown, p. 75; and Marsh’s Introduction to Can You Forgive Her? (London, 1950) I, xiv.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Booth devotes four pages to the novel. Cockshut mentions it four times but never discusses it in detail. Polhemus devotes nine pages to the love-interests but ignores the political content. Pope-Hennessy deals off-handedly with it for just three pages — despite its many possible biographical connections. Ruth apRoberts mentions the novel twice in passing. Skilton surveys contemporary critical reaction to the novel, and little else, in less than three pages. The recently published essays alluded to in the text are David S. Chamberlain, “Unity and Irony in Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?”, SEL, 8 (Autumn 1968), 670–7;Google Scholar
  3. Juliet McMaster, “ ‘ The Meaning of Words and the Nature of Things’: Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?”, SEL, 14 (Autumn 1974), 603–18;Google Scholar
  4. And George Levine, “Can You Forgive Him? Trollope’s ‘ Can You Forgive Her?’ and the Myth of Realism,” VS, 18 (September 1974), 5–30.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    These cases are persuasively argued by Norris D. Hoyt in “ ‘ Can You Forgive Her?’: A Commentary,” TT, 2 (September 1947), 57–70, and at greater length in his unpublished Yale dissertation, The Parliamentary Novels of Anthony Trollope (1940). Snow, pp. 46–7, is the only recent critic to discuss in any detail the novel’s connections with Sir Henry Taylor and Philip van Artevelde.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    See The Portrait of A Lady, ed. Leon Edel (Boston, 1963), Chapter 6, pp. 52–5, passim. Subsequent references in the text are to this (the Riverside) edition.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    See Trollope’s “The Migration of A Library,” Pall Mall Gazette, 17 (September 1880), 1079. I am grateful to Andrew Wright for calling this to my attention.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    See J. A. Banks, “The Way They Lived Then: Anthony Trollope and the Seventies,” VS, 12 (December 1968), 177–200, especially 194; and Four Lectures, p. 77.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Quoted by John Butt and Kathleen Tillotson in Dickens at Work (London, 1957), p. 96. The article appeared in Household Words, No. 85 (8 November 1851).Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Middlemarch, ed. Gordon S. Haight (Boston, 1956; the Riverside edition), pp. 610–13, passim.; and The Mill on the Floss, VI, iii.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    See F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (London, 1948);Google Scholar
  12. Q. D. Leavis, “A Note on Literary Indebtedness: Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James,” Hudson Review, 8 (1955);Google Scholar
  13. Oscar Cargill, “ ‘ The Portrait of A Lady’: A Critical Reappraisal,” Modem Fiction Studies, 3 (1957);Google Scholar
  14. George Levine, “Isabel, Gwendolen, and Dorothea,” ELH, 30 (1963);Google Scholar
  15. Cornelia Pulsifer Kelley, The Early Development of Henry James (Urbana, 1965);Google Scholar
  16. And John Halperin, The Language of Meditation (Devon, 1973).Google Scholar
  17. See also James’s unsigned review of Middlemarch in The Galaxy (March 1873), widely reprinted.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Halperin 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Halperin
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaUSA

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