I’ve been reading Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series. They are full of fantastic characters. Dr. Grantley, Mr. Harding, Mr. Slope, Mrs. Proudie, Miss Dunstable, the Duke of Omnium, Dr. Thorne are some of my favorites. In the fourth novel, Framley Parsonage, I met my favorite character by far — the roguish Mr. Nathaniel Sowerby!
Introduction of a Rogue
Mr. Sowerby’s description:
And then Mr. Sowerby was one whose intimacy few young men would wish to reject. He was fifty, and had lived, perhaps, not the most salutary life; but he dressed young, and usually looked well. He was bald, with a good forehead, and sparkling moist eyes. He was a clever man, and a pleasant companion, and always good-humoured when it so suited him. He was a gentleman, too, of high breeding and good birth, whose ancestors had been known in that county—longer, the farmers around would boast, than those of any other landowner in it, unless it be the Thornes of Ullathorne, or perhaps the Greshams of Greshamsbury—much longer than the De Courcys at Courcy Castle. As for the Duke of Omnium, he, comparatively speaking, was a new man.
I expect by “moist eyes” he means shining. At fifty he might seem a bit young but Mr. Malahide looks much younger than his age, and there is no reason why a televised Sowerby couldn’t be aged up. He is a member of Parliament, supported by the Duke of Omnium. He is also a notorious debtor whose grand estate, Chaldicotes, is under threat of foreclosure by the same duke.
Sowerby has been taking out loans and renewing them for years. He also cajoles his young, innocent friends to guarantee those loans. When he defaults, and he always defaults, the creditors ultimately go to them.
The story’s main protagonist, Rev. Mark Robarts, is the young vicar of Framley. He befriends Mr. Sowerby and, sadly, signs a note guaranteeing one of those loans:
Mark sat silent, gazing at the fire and wishing that he was in his own bedroom. He had an idea that Mr. Sowerby wished him to produce this £400; and he knew also that he had not £400 in the world, and that if he had he would be acting very foolishly to give it to Mr. Sowerby. But nevertheless he felt half fascinated by the man, and half afraid of him.
The combination of fascination and fear explains why young men are so quick to do his bidding. He is a force of nature, convivial but intense. He is a man used to having his own way. Patrick Malahide would be perfect to play that hearty fellow. He has shown such energy as Sir John Conroy in Victoria & Albert, so he could easily portray a man who awes and overwhelms young, impressionable innocents.
To me, Mr. Sowerby is like a cross between Mr. Jingle (brashness) and Lord Glendenning (prestige). I don’t mean to over-simplify him, as he has his own qualities, and Mr. Malahide would bring something fresh and exciting to such a role. But, Sowerby does remind me a bit of those two.
Although Robarts knows Mr. Sowerby is a rogue, he still wants to be his friend, which is testament to Sowerby’s charm. When Robarts leaves Sowerby to return to his home in Framley, he is hurt that the affable man makes no promises to write or visit him. I can well imagine Mr. Malahide taking on the cheerful flippancy shown in this scene:
“Say everything that’s kind from me to Lufton. I may possibly see him out hunting; otherwise we shan’t meet till the spring. As to my going to Framley, that’s out of the question. Her ladyship would look for my tail, and swear that she smelt brimstone. By-bye, old fellow!”
“Her ladyship” is Robarts’ patroness Lady Lufton. She does NOT hold Sowerby in high regard and recognizes him for what he is: a rogue and a debtor who has a way of leading men (her son, Lord Lufton, included) astray.
Sowerby knows how she feels and occasionally questions why Robarts is afraid of that “old woman.” 😀 But when he learns that she has paid Lord Lufton’s debts (which were all Sowerby’s fault) he sadly declares, “I wish I had a mother.” I’d love to see that on film! The line about his tail and brimstone is great.
♥ What a Romantic ♥
The debts are mounting and Sowerby can’t keep spinning the metaphorical plates forever. He has a plan, devised by the Duke of Omnium, to marry the great heiress (whose father ran a patent medicine business: “The Ointment of Lebanon”) Miss Dunstable. If she were to marry him, she could pay off all his debts. That would make her the owner of Chaldicotes, but Sowerby is comfortable with that.
There are a couple of very funny moments during his “courtship” (it is never a proper courtship, Mr. Sowerby is a bit rubbish at such things) of Miss Dunstable.
One occurs when Sowerby and his guests are to listen to a speech given by his brother-in-law Harold Smith. Sowerby tries to secure the same ride as Dunstable, but she blocks him by asking to ride with Mrs. Proudie, begging her to finish her story about Mr. Slope. Thwarted, Sowerby rides with his brother-in-law but falls asleep since he’d just as soon not talk to him.
The second one takes place the morning after the speech (which Sowerby openly mocked — he is really funny) before they go to church to listen to Rev. Robarts. They are running late because Sowerby and his sister tend to take their sweet time. When Dunstable considers riding ahead with Robarts, Sowerby starts moving:
When Mark again talked of hiring a gig, Miss Dunstable indeed said that she would join him; and seemed to be so far earnest in the matter that Mr. Sowerby hurried through his second egg in order to prevent such a catastrophe.
Don’t Pester an Outdoors-Man About Money
Skipping ahead a bit, Sowerby is not paying the debt, so Rev. Robarts is on the firing line for it. He confronts Sowerby during a hunt:
“Don’t you know the bill I signed for you for four hundred pounds?”
“Did you, though? Was not that rather green of you?”
I can just imagine him on his horse, basically mocking the “rather green” man who has temporarily saved him.
“There is not the slightest fear of that. Tally-ho, old fellow! He’s away. Tally-ho! right over by Gossetts’ barn. Come along, and never mind Tozer—’Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.'” And away they both went together, parson and member of Parliament.
As you can see, Mr. Sowerby likes his hunting and riding. Honestly, it is all part of his charm. It really is! He even convinces Rev. Robarts to buy his fine horse Dandy. I love that he named his horse Dandy. It suits Sowerby’s fun loving spirit.
Unsurprisingly, Robarts can’t really afford Dandy. There is a storyline about a prebendary stall which ties into the Dandy purchase. I won’t go into it as it is complicated and deals with simony and horse selling. But, believe me, it is entertaining and shows the complex machinery of Sowerby’s mind.
Decline, Ruin and True Remorse
But, like all things, Sowerby’s good times come to an end. Despite admitting her fondness for him, Miss Dunstable wisely refuses to marry Sowerby. However, she does save him from the ignominy of losing Chaldicotes to the Duke of Omnium. She pays of his debts and becomes Chaldicotes owner. She asks him remain in place as a “gentleman farmer” but insists he seeks re-election, this time in opposition to the Duke, for his seat in Parliament.
But, by now, Sowerby is a chastened and depressed man. He feels painfully sorry for the harm he caused Robarts and has lost the will to fight. The key element here is how truly guilty he feels for the misfortune he brought upon others.
Sure, he knowingly took advantage of their innocent natures and used his affable nature to cajole them into doing his bidding, but he never wanted to hurt anybody. This is demonstrated in his final scene with Robarts:
“I am at this moment a ruined man,” said Sowerby. “Everything is going from me,—my place in the world, the estate of my family, my father’s house, my seat in Parliament, the power of living among my countrymen, or, indeed, of living anywhere;—but all this does not oppress me now so much as the misery which I have brought upon you.” And then Sowerby also turned away his face, and wiped from his eyes tears which were not artificial.
Mr. Malahide has the skills to combine charming roguery with sincere remorse. It is that quality which consistently compels Trollope to remind us that while Sowerby is a rogue, he is not cruel.
Again, he is not cruel. Miss Dunstable genuinely likes him and she is a fine judge of character. And his sister, Mrs. Harold Smith, loves him. She loves him more than she does her own husband. She strives hard to make the final save for Mr. Sowerby, going so far as to asking Miss Dunstable to marry him.
Ultimately, Miss Dustable marries Dr. Thorne. Mr. Sowerby chooses to leave Chaldicotes, but his fans are not without hope:
He attempted that plan of living as a tenant in his old house at Chaldicotes and of making a living out of the land which he farmed; but he soon abandoned it. He had no aptitude for such industry, and could not endure his altered position in the county. He soon relinquished Chaldicotes of his own accord, and has vanished away, as such men do vanish—not altogether without necessary income; to which point in the final arrangement of their joint affairs, Mrs. Thorne’s man of business—if I may be allowed so far to anticipate—paid special attention.
So Nathaniel leaves, but it seems the former Miss Dunstable has enough heart to ensure he will be alright. He is such a likable character that I didn’t want anything too awful to happen to him. It is good to know that he will be able to make a life for himself elsewhere.
As I mentioned before, Sowerby reminds me of Mr. Jingle. He isn’t as totally unscrupulous as Jingle, but there is something about these men that makes your heart break to see them so crestfallen.
For all the reasons mentioned above, I really wish to see Patrick Malahide play Mr. Sowerby. I also want the rest of the Barchester novels televised. The first two, The Warden and Barchester Towers were adapted into The Barchester Chronicles mini-series. I’m not sure why the others haven’t been also adapted, but they deserve to be, especially with Patrick Malahide as Mr. Sowerby!