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First edition title page.
|Series||Chronicles of Barsetshire|
|Preceded by||Barchester Towers|
|Followed by||Framley Parsonage|
|Text||Doctor Thorne at Wikisource|
The novel is mainly concerned with the difficulties experienced by Mary Thorne, the niece of Doctor Thomas Thorne (a member of a junior branch of the family of Mr Wilfred Thorne, who appeared in Barchester Towers), in the course of her romance with Frank Gresham, the only son of the local squire. However, Trollope, as the omniscient narrator, assures the reader at the beginning that the hero is really the doctor.
The themes of the book include the social shame and rejection caused by illegitimacy, the nefarious effects of the demon drink, and the difficulties of romantic attachments outside one's social class. The novel also gives a vivid picture of electioneering and all the barely legal shenanigans that accompany it. Most of the action takes place in a village of Barsetshire and a country house not far off.
When their father dies, Doctor Thomas Thorne and his younger brother Henry are left to fend for themselves. Thomas begins to establish a medical practice. Henry seduces Mary Scatcherd, the sister of stonemason Roger Scatcherd. When Roger finds out that Mary has become pregnant, he kills Henry in a fight.
While her brother is in prison for the death, Mary gives birth to a girl. A former suitor offers to marry Mary and emigrate to America to start a new life, but not if she keeps the baby. Doctor Thorne persuades Mary to accept the offer, promising to raise his niece. He names her Mary Thorne, but, wishing neither to have her illegitimacy made public nor to have her associate with the uncouth Roger Scatcherd, he keeps her parentage secret. Mary Scatcherd tells her brother that the baby has died.
After his release from prison, Scatcherd rises quickly in the world, becoming extremely rich. When he completes a seemingly impossible important project on time, he is made a baronet for his efforts. Throughout his career, he entrusts his financial affairs to Doctor Thorne. When Thorne becomes the family doctor to the Greshams, he persuades Scatcherd to lend increasing sums to the head of the family, the local squire. Eventually, much of the Gresham estate is put up as collateral.
Meanwhile, Mary Thorne grows up with the Gresham children and becomes a great favourite with the whole family.
As young adults, Mary and Frank Gresham — the only son and heir of the squire of Greshamsbury — fall in love. However, his parents want him to marry wealth, to rescue them from the financial distress resulting from the squire's expensive and fruitless campaigns for a seat in Parliament. As Mary is penniless and of lower birth, such a marriage is inconceivable to his mother and to the de Courcys, the Greshams' aristocratic relatives. They wish Frank to marry the 30-year-old, eccentric heiress Martha Dunstable instead. Frank reluctantly visits Courcy Castle in order to meet Miss Dunstable, and they become friends. He foolishly and playfully proposes but she demurs, knowing that he does not love her.
Sir Roger Scatcherd is a chronic drunkard and Doctor Thorne tries in vain to get him to curtail his drinking. In his will, Scatcherd stipulates that the bulk of his estate go to his only son, the dissolute Louis Philippe. However, he leaves Doctor Thorne in control of the inheritance until Louis Philippe reaches the age of 25. Should Louis die before then, Scatcherd stipulates that the estate go to his sister Mary's eldest child. Thorne, knowing that Scatcherd is thinking of the children Mary had in America, is forced to divulge Mary's history to Scatcherd, but Scatcherd leaves the will unchanged.
Roger Scatcherd eventually dies of drink. The son proves just as much an alcoholic as the father, and his weaker constitution quickly brings him to the same end before he reaches the age of 25. After consulting with lawyers, Doctor Thorne confirms that his niece Mary is the heiress -- now richer than even Miss Dunstable.
Unaware of these developments, the still resolute Frank finally persuades his doting father to consent to his marriage to Mary. When all is revealed, the rest of his relatives heartily congratulate him.
- Dr Thomas Thorne, the uncle of Mary Thorne, who works as a doctor and apothecary. He is the confidant of both Squire Gresham senior and Sir Roger.
- Mary Thorne, the niece of Dr. Thorne and Sir Roger.
- Sir Roger Scatcherd, maternal uncle of Mary Thorne and a former stonemason. Once jailed for manslaughter, he was later made a baronet for his services in building railways in the country.
- Lady Scatcherd, wife of Sir Roger and mother of Louis Philippe. She was Frank Gresham's wet nurse when he was a child and remains very fond of him.
- Sir Louis Philippe Scatcherd, the son of Sir Roger and Lady Scatcherd, and a chronic alcoholic like his father.
- Mr Francis Newbold Gresham, senior, the squire of Greshamsbury.
- Lady Arabella, his wife, née de Courcy, who is most anxious for Frank to "marry money."
- Francis "Frank" Newbold Gresham, junior. The squire's only son and heir, his eldest child.
- Augusta Gresham, Frank's youngest sister.
- Beatrice Gresham, Frank's younger sister and Mary Thorne's best friend.
The de Courcys
- The Earl de Courcy, Lady Arabella Gresham's brother.
- Lady de Courcy, wife of the earl.
- Lady Alexandrina, their eldest daughter.
- Caleb Oriel, a clergyman who later marries Beatrice Gresham.
- Patience Oriel, Caleb's sister, and a close friend of Beatrice.
- The Duke of Omnium, an extremely wealthy bachelor who figures in a number of Trollope's Barsetshire and Palliser novels.
- Martha Dunstable, a kind-hearted, wealthy heiress of an "oil of Lebanon" business.
- Mr. Moffat, one-time suitor of Miss Augusta Gresham, who later withdraws his proposal (to seek a more advantageous match) and is horsewhipped by Frank for it.
- Dr. Fillgrave, a Barchester doctor who detests Dr Thorne.
- Rendell, Ruth. "Introduction", Doctor Thorne, London: Penguin Books, 1991, p. viii
- "Doctor Thorne review: Fellowes and Trollope is a happy marriage". Telegraph Online. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
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