Can You Forgive Her? Review

It has been too long since I made time to read, but I finally made time, and it was so good to get back in the swing of things. Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope, is a novel which was written in 1864, when the U.S. was right in the thick of the Civil War. But this book was set in England and includes no reference to the war whatsoever. That alone was interesting—the same hoopskirts, the same point in time that we have all studied in detail…a very different experience. 

I first discovered Anthony Trollope by watching the Julian Fellowes-directed Doctor Thorne, which was based on Trollope’s book by the same name, on Prime. Fellowes would cozily appear before each episode began to tell us about his love for Trollope and his characters. I had a hunch, given my love of Fellowes’s Downton Abbey, that any novelist whom he liked, I would like also.

As I was looking for a Trollope book to start, I was first intrigued by the title, which seemed very tongue-in-cheek and a little daring. I would describe Trollope’s overall tone as just that, with added ingredients of compassion and a sweet, bouncy narrative form. He starts out the book breaking the fourth wall by babbling something along the lines of: “The thing for which I am going to ask you to forgive her had not yet taken place…” It made me smile immediately. Every once in a while, he breaks the wall to have a little chat with the reader. “I for one am inclined to forgive her… In any event, you must forgive her before the end of this narrative…”

The story follows Alice Vavasor, a young lady who is engaged at the start of the book but can’t really decide whom she wants to marry for various reasons. I don’t want to try to capture Alice here because Trollope draws her as being exquisitely complex. We get so deeply into her head and learn all about her introspection, strength, morality, goodness, insecurities, and stubbornness. Going to that level of understanding a woman felt very modern; you completely forget that it was written during the Victorian Era. There was almost nothing he had to say about women that would make modern readers cringe because Trollope both loves women and never forgets the most important part of writing fiction: to remember the humanity of all. Alice reminds me, more than any character I have ever read, of myself, but it occurred to me that a lot of women might feel the same because Trollope just gets women. He has a way of conveying with clarity the creatures that they are—exquisite and nuanced—so perfectly onto the page that you are shocked to reflect they are not real characters.

This is saying a lot for a book written in 1864 when this level of psychological understanding and exploration was somewhat less than ubiquitous. But psychology seems to be where Trollope shines most in this book. He understands women, he understands how they interact with men, and he understands men. Character after character is portrayed honestly, but always with a dash of compassion, of understanding, in the way of seeing through their eyes—even the villains.

Everyone in Alice’s life gets some airtime. Trollope is meticulous to explore each of his characters’ personalities and motivations in details. Particularly interesting was the marriage of Plantagenet Palliser and Lady Glencora. Trollope explores the unhappiness of Glencora, Alice’s cousin, who is a young wife who was forced into marriage with a man she doesn’t love. He frankly (and scandalously for the time period) explores the possibility of Glencora leaving her husband for another man, and then sensitively fights hard for the marriage. The Palliser couple forms the link for the succeeding Palliser series, apparently. (I am not sure whether I will read the rest because they appear to have an emphasis on political rather than romantic storylines, but I have ordered another book from a different series.)

Another character with a lot of airtime is Alice’s cousin, George, the true villain in the story who even commits violence against a woman, a scene which Trollope doesn’t shy away from putting right on the pages (again, unusual for the time). That being said, even George’s motivations are explored sensitively, and not without a certain measure of sympathy, even if Trollope does have very clear notions of the way things should be and of how people should behave.

Other female characters are Alice’s wealthy aunt and her cousin, Kate, whose lives and personalities are explored in detail along with Alice’s and Glencora’s. Because of this, the book actually felt in some respects like modern women’s fiction. Somehow, I have to imagine that this level of attention to women was ground-breaking in the 1860s. But Trollope does it with a respect for social conventions also that would have made it more palatable to the Victorian reader than if he had tried something more revolutionary.

But the men are not given short shrift either. I particularly liked the character of John Grey, who is a very strong character who made for a romantic plot that moved the story along.

There were some parts that were a bit boring, usually dealing with George’s financial matters, that I did skim over. I would recommend doing that because those parts have the potential to bog the reader down. All in all, however, I really enjoyed the book and feel like I discovered a new author to stand alongside my favorite English historical authors.

A Note on the Humor Style of Thank God for Mississippi

The concept of Thank God for Mississippi was always ninety percent humor. The South is full of legends of comedy, and I came from a family that was always ready to enjoy that. Growing up, I remember my mom flipping to the back of Southern Living to get to the humor piece first. Comedy laced with self-deprecation and Southern-style outrage/annoyance was always in the midst. Family storytelling with an emphasis on humor was and is very much a part of our lives. 

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Southern Rain Anniversary Q&A

Today is the third anniversary of the publication of Southern Rain on Amazon KDP. The process has been rewarding, humbling, fun, and, on the beginning, terrifying. To celebrate, I decided to do a Q&A based off questions that I have received about the Torn Asunder Series from readers over the past three years. Obviously, there are some spoilers because this is a deep dive into details of the story. Because I would like to say thank you for all of those who have loved the series, I decided to record my responses to these questions. But please bear with me and excuse the many “um’s” and pauses because I recorded them off-the-cuff. I hope you enjoy it!

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Mississippi and Me: Country Music, Inspiration for Past and Present

When I decided to set Thank God for Mississippi in Tennessee, it seemed as natural as breathing to include a passion for the greats of country music in my eponymous character’s repertoire of traits. She loves Dolly Parton and gets affronted when the main male character says something she perceives to be a slight to the Queen of Country Music. She has sung June Carter Cash songs at the annual town fair for years. She has a T-shirt that says: “DOLLY AND LORETTA AND PATSY,” (which is how, the main male character says, he located her at the town fair). You get the picture.

I’ve only just begun to realize the impact country music has had on my life. It’s strange to have grown up in Tennessee, not too far distant from Nashville, and not realize how immersed you are in country music. My childhood home is roughly 65 miles from Nashville, but you could pick up about five of the Nashville country stations and the local ones as well. Dolly Parton, the fairy godmother of Tennessee, is something more than a legend at this point, and we’re basically bottle-fed on her songs. So obviously, there is a natural connection with country music in the area I grew up—and in the area where Thank God for Mississippi is set.

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What Genre Am I?

My first series was a time-slip contemporary/historical with romantic elements. My next novel was sort of a niche Southern fiction/small town/humor with romantic elements. I think some of my initial audience was drawn to the immersive Civil War themes of the Torn Asunder Series, with some happening to fall in love with the modern characters along the way.

There is no question that, for marketing purposes, it would have been great for my next project to sort of resemble my previous series in some tangible way, in order to build on the following in that direction. I was aware of that and actually made the conscious decision not to do that.

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Thank God for Mississippi – Official Playlist

Ahead of the release of TGFM, I am also sharing my Spotify playlist. This includes songs that went into the creative process somehow, songs that were mentioned in the book, and songs that just generally represented the book, all of which I listened to during the drafting stage. Hope you enjoy!

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Q&A: Thank God for Mississippi

Hi Readers! I am excited to share the official Q&A for Thank God for Mississippi with you! I always open these to readers and anyone with an interest. We have some great questions, and I categorized them by topic. Starting off, there are questions about the writer (moi!), followed by questions about TGFM itself, which lead into questions about small town and Southern life, Southern literature in general—and then we bring it back to the book. The questions were very wide-ranging this time, but I think they’re all pertinent and related. Enjoy!

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Release Date – Thank God for Mississippi

It’s official! The release date for Thank God for Mississippi is set for March 7, 2022. That means it will be in your hands in a little more than a month! You can go ahead and preorder the Kindle version by following the link below. If you do this, the book will appear in your Kindle on March 7. For paperbacks, you will be able to order the book on March 7 (or maybe a couple of days before, if you watch Amazon closely!).

At the start, my books are always just available at Amazon. Once expanded distribution kicks in, you should be able to find it available for online order at a variety of places. And as always, they are available at KU if you are a member.

Follow the link below! (Note: if the link doesn’t work just yet, go to Amazon, and type: “Thank God for Mississippi Tara Cowan,” and it should take you to it!