Dr. Wortle’s School
I am not sure where I picked up this little honey of an edition, but it has been sitting in my TBR for quite some time. In the world of Trollope, this almost 300-page book is practically a short story and it is full of all of the clerical intrigue that one comes to expect from this Victorian master. If the opera Aida could have just as appropriately been called Amneris after the mezzo-soprano role (or if Barber’s opera Vanessa could have been called Erica after that mezzo role), so too could Dr. Wortle’s School have been called Mr. Peacocke’s Secret. It is, after all, the revelation of Mr. and Mrs. Peacocke’s secret that put Dr. Wortle and his school to the test. The Peacocke’s have come to work at Bowick School and soon become indispensible to its success, but it turns out they are hiding something.
Early in the novel Trollope lets us in on the secret so I will not feel bad about revealing said secret here. But I guess I should officially issue a spoiler alert, although I don’t think knowing the secret will lessen the interest of anyone wishing to read this book in the first place. While teaching classics at a university in the USA Mr. Peacocke marries Mrs. Peacocke thinking that her abusive, drunkard, deserter husband has been killed, thus freeing her to remarry. Sometime after they are married Mrs. Peacocke’s husband reappears very much alive. So, rather than put her back in the hands of the abusive husband, the Peacockes move to England and take positions at Bowick. Well you can imagine what the society folks of 1882 think of the Peacockes once the secret gets out. Even worse is that Dr. Wortle decides to defend the couple, putting the reputation of his school and its very existence on the line.
What I won’t tell you is if Dr. Wortle’s school or his soul are saved.
This isn’t the most fantastic Trollope of all time, but it might be a good intro for someone who has never read any of his prodigious output. It certainly provides a cozy read and a forward momentum that makes it a bit of a page turner. And the rather racy nature of the secret, at least by Victorian standards, makes it a little more risque than one normally expects from Trollope.