In this, the third novel in Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire, the author leaves the clerical world to explore the interplay of love, class status and money in 19th Century England. The titular character is an upright country doctor who has raised his dead brother's daughter as his own, and hidden from her the sordid truth of her illegitimate birth. This girl, Mary Thorne, is beautiful and virtuous, but penniless and of worse than humble birth.
The novel is driven by Mary's love for young Frank Gresham, the young squire of Greshamsbury. His father is the first commoner of West Barsetshire and connected by marriage to the local aristocracy, the de Courcys. The squire having encumbered Greshamsbury in debt, the family's only hope is that Frank marry money; however, he is adamant he will wed only his love, Mary Thorne.
According to Auden, no writer so well understood money as Anthony Trollope; here his unhurried and warm prose mercilessly skewers the pretensions of "high birth" and "noble blood." While the love story is somewhat dull, the dissection of the social and economic pressures playing on the different classes is brilliant.
Nonetheless the love story is at the forefront, and the novel suffers slightly for it. However, even though Frank and Mary are not particularly interesting, the wide cast of supporting characters are brilliantly drawn; their struggles for love and money make this novel well worth reading.