Dr. Wortle's School Reading Group!
Claire Laporte, Secretary
Have you ever had that creeping sense that you are making a bad decision, one that will come back to haunt you? Have you known this and stuck to your decision anyway? Anthony Trollope’s Dr. Wortle’s School explores these sensations in its eponymous protagonist, Dr. Jeffrey Wortle. The Doctor is a man of formidable will, a clergyman and successful schoolmaster whom Trollope describes as “a man much esteemed by others,—and by himself.”
Dr. Wortle has one very significant flaw: he has enormous difficulty tolerating even reasonable criticism. He is “a man who would bear censure from no human being.” At one point, Dr. Wortle asks the advice of a clerical colleague, the amusingly named Mr. Puddicombe. Because Mr. Puddicombe steadfastly disagrees with the course of conduct Dr. Wortle favors, the Doctor comes away from their exchange “declaring to himself that the man was a strait-laced, fanatical, hard-hearted bigot.” But even as he makes this judgment, he knows that Mr. Puddicombe is at least partly right. “[T]hough he hated Mr. Puddicombe for his cold logic, [he] could not but acknowledge that all the man had said was true.”
Dr. Wortle’s temper undergoes another trial when the bishop, his clerical superior, issues a well-meaning caution after reading a newspaper article in which scandalous insinuations are made against Dr. Wortle. Being cautioned by one’s bishop is a situation that would have sent most clergymen into abject retreat, yet Dr. Wortle bristles, demanding an apology for the bishop’s apparent endorsement of the salacious commentary in the newspaper. Before he sends the letter demanding an apology to the bishop, Dr. Wortle reviews it and finds that he is both “rather proud of this letter …, and yet a little afraid of it.” He thinks of showing it to Mr. Puddicombe but does not. “Mr. Puddicombe would no doubt have advised him not to send it, and then he would have been almost compelled to submit to such advice.”
This is such a wonderful example of that moment so many of us have experienced when we are about to do something we know to be ill-advised. We’d like to stop ourselves, but we just can’t do it. And part of us doesn’t want to stop.
That same moment is also a wonderful example of Trollope’s ability to double as both omniscient narrator and as the inner voice of his characters, with all their nuance, complexity, ambiguity, and humor.
So: I hope I’ve convinced you that this short novel is a worthy way to get to know both Trollope as an author and Dr. Wortle (and many others) as characters you’d like to meet. Let’s read this book together. It’s available through libraries, in paperback, and at the following free website.
We will tackle the novel in two one-hour sessions that are two weeks apart. Meetings will occur at 8 PM EDT, 5 PM PDT via a Zoom link to be sent to those who sign up.
Wednesday, September 21. Read through the end of Part Four, through the chapter entitled “The Stantiloup Correspondence.”
Wednesday, October 12 to finish the novel.