This comprehensive novel consists of three subplots which interlink to form the whole and supply a trio of targets at which Trollope aims his proselytising pen. The first treats on the courtship of a woman by a man whom she does not love and with whom she is not compatible. Mary Lowther will not accept such a marriage of dishonesty. The second deals with the plight of a young woman who has fallen prey to the wiles of an evil seducer and subsequently adopts a life of prostitution. Trollope's argument was that the punishment for fornication was much harsher for women than men, although in most cases the latter were more to blame, and their victims were given no opportunity of returning to decent lives no matter how repentant they may have been.
The third subject to receive the benefit of the author's moral outrage is the hypocrisy and narrow vision of the landed gentry in the person of the Marquis of Trowbridge, who treats his tenants as serfs and whose social code appears to be 'might is right'. The common sense of the pragmatic protagonist, Frank Fenwick, apparently very like Trollope himself, is a joy to hear.
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