This short novel, which originally ran as a serial in 1872, is set in Alsace-Lorraine. Most of the action takes place around the Lion d'Or, an inn in the small town of Granpère. Michel Voss, the owner, runs it with the help of his wife's niece Marie Bromar. Strong, capable and intelligent, she is a shrewd businesswoman, which struck me as unusual in a Trollope heroine. She is much more active in the business than her aunt, who is Michel's second wife. Michel has a son by his first wife, George, who managed a timber business for his father, as well as helping with the inn. George and Marie are in love, but George's father told him, "I won't have it." So George left the business and his family - not to mention his love - to go to work for an elderly cousin, running her hotel in a nearby town. He hasn't been home in a year, nor has he sent any word to Marie. Meanwhile, Marie's aunt and uncle have picked out a husband for her: Adrian Urmand, a Swiss merchant, rich and handsome (though he rather overdoes the hair pomade). Marie thinks George has forgotten her, George thinks Marie is a fickle woman, Michel Voss thinks he knows best for both, and Adrian thinks he is getting the perfect wife. It is probably not really a spoiler to say that they are all wrong, because Trollope lays most of this out in the first chapters. He winds them all up in these knots of emotion and misunderstanding, and then very cleverly unravels the knots.
This story has some familiar Trollopian plot elements, though they develop in an unfamiliar setting. According to the introduction in my World's Classics edition, Anthony Trollope intended to publish this anonymously, like his earlier works Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel. He was outed quickly as the author of Nina Balatka, when a reviewer noted a "characteristic Trollopian turn of phrase, 'to make one's way,' used of occasions when the difficulty is psychological and not physical." I have never noticed that phrase myself. I have however noticed how often Trollope's heroines are described as "worshiping" their lovers or husbands. I don't think I've come across that in other Victorian novelists, but I'm keeping an eye out.
Even in this short novel, Trollope still managed to work in some post office business: Marie writes a crucial letter to Adrian and sends it on the way to Basle in Switzerland, calculating how long it will take to get there (tracing its route). When she tells her uncle of it, he sets off to intercept it, but he finds he cannot interfere with the mail. Trollope sometimes seems as interested in how how a letter gets to its destination as in what happens once it arrives.
I enjoyed this quiet story. I've read some of Trollope's short stories, set in France and Germany. The Oxford companion to Trollope notes that he and his wife Rose visited Alsace-Lorraine shortly before he started writing this in 1867. As the editor says, this may not be an exact picture of life there, but as always with Trollope it is his characters that make his story come alive. Marie in particular is an interesting heroine. She isn't well educated - she has trouble writing that important letter - but she is smart and strong. One of the reasons her uncle gives for wanting her to marry Adrian is that she shouldn't have to to work at the inn all her days. She is certainly good at essentially managing it for him, she seems to enjoy it, and I hope she will continue to use her talents.
I have been distracted from my reading goals for the Trollope Bicentennial this year, and I also missed reading Framley Parsonage for Audrey's #6Barsets project. I am hoping to rejoin for The Small House at Allington.
On a side note, this is my 500th post, which seems a little hard to believe. As it happens, my very first post was on Anthony Trollope, more than four years ago. I know there will be many more to come. The Trollope section of the TBR stacks doesn't seem to get any smaller, and then there is the pleasure of re-reading, of meeting old friends again in his stories.