I wonder whether Prime Minister Gladstone was the inspiration for the Vicar of Bullhampton. He used to roam the seamy streets of London trying to rescue prostitutes from the life. While the vicar doesn’t roam the streets of Bullhampton like the prime minister, he has his eye on one pretty unfortunate. Her name is Carrie Brattle, and she is the daughter of the miller. She is what is known in Victorian times as a ‘fallen woman.’
Frank Fenwick, the vicar, has known her since childhood and will do whatever he can to reconcile her to her father and bring her back to Bullhampton and a life of virtue. He believes in forgiveness and that no sin is so dark that it can’t be forgiven. This puts him at odds with her family, who think she has made her bed and must lie in it. None of them will lift a finger to help her.
Meanwhile in the obligatory love story, their friend and house guest Mary Lowther seems just the right match for the local squire. Mary and Gilmore seem perfect for each other if it weren’t for the fact that Squire Gilmore holds not one bit of attraction for Mary. In fact she finds him rather repulsive, and the thought of his having power over her body gives her the collywobbles. She loves her cousin Walter Marrable, who unfortunately has no money. The untangling of this dilemma holds much attraction for readers of the book.
The third subplot involves a squabble between the vicar and the local big cheese, the Marquis, who owns everything around that isn’t owned by the squire. You see, the vicar has insulted the Marquis by not being properly deferential.
Trollope shows his mastery of the form by working out these subplots simultaneously with a murder trial of Sam Brattle, the miller’s son and Carrie’s brother. I find the character of Squire Gilmore fascinating. He expects Mary to just drop into his lap because he wants her, and their friends think it would be a good idea. He pines and he whines, and he won’t take no for an answer. He simply doesn’t see Mary as a person, merely as a possession, and he is bereft when he finds her no means no.
Altogether a most satisfying read.