Monday, February 05, 2018

The Palliser Novels

Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels are a series that grew out of his beloved Barsetshire Chronicles. The Duke of Omnium, wicked and politically liberal, is a minor character in the Barsetshire books. He serves as a symbol of moral looseness and he's the head of the family that forms the central core of the Palliser novels. While the Barsetshire books focus on the dealings of the Church of England, the Palliser novels focus on the British parliament. British government is not my strong suit, but each Palliser novel has its human interest angle in the form of a love story, so don't be intimidated. I enjoyed the whole series, but I did skim over some of the dense passages about politics.  And now onto the summaries.


Can You Forgive Her? (1864) If you're wondering who it is you're supposed to forgive, it's the protagonist, Alice Vavasor, for behaving like an idiot. Alice is a young woman, who, owing to her mother's death and her father's negligence, is rather more independent than most Victorian young ladies. She is engaged to the eminently respectable but boring John Grey. She also has a dashing cousin, George Vavasor, who has ambitions of getting into parliament and who seems more romantic and exciting than plain John Grey. George's sister Kate lobbies hard for Alice to dump John and marry George. Meanwhile, Alice's cousin Lady Glencora has recently married Plantagenet Palliser and things are not going well. Lady Glencora, immensely rich in her own right, had been in love with the dashing, romantic, but also profligate Burgo Fitzgerald. Her family conspired to force her away from Fitzgerald and into marriage with Palliser, who is the heir to the Duke of Omnium. Lady Glencora teeters on the edge of infidelity, while Alice Vavasor makes one stupid decision after another. There's a third, comic relief plot line involving George and Kate's aunt, the wealthy widow Mrs. Greenow and the competition for her hand between two bumblers. This book sets the stage for the other books in the series. The marriage of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser is the core of the whole series. George Vavasor's foray into politics introduces us to the parliamentary angle of the books. Overall, this was an absorbing story, with a few scenes of shocking violence.


Phineas Finn (1869) The title character is a young Irishman, charming and extraordinarily good looking, who gets a chance for a seat in parliament. And so begins his political career. I've heard people say they didn't like this book. There are some long, skimmable passages about politics, but there's plenty going on in Phineas' personal life to keep you interested. He has a girl who loves him back in Ireland and manages to fall in love with two different women in England and a fourth falls in love with him and he fights a duel, and in general behaves pretty badly while also being mostly likable. Also, the story of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser continues in this book.


The Eustace Diamonds (1873) One of my favorite Trollope books overall, and hands down favorite of the Palliser series. There's not much about politics in this one and the story shifts away from the Pallisers, who are mere observers of this drama. Lizzie Greystock, no better than she should be, marries and is soon widowed by Sir Florian Eustace. A valuable diamond necklace, belonging to the Eustace estate was given to Lizzie by her husband. She refuses to give it up and obstinately won't understand the difference between something you own outright and a family heirloom that is really only on loan to you. In the meantime, she looks around for a new husband and is attracted to her cousin Frank Greystock, who is already engaged to a lovely but impoverished girl but that doesn't stop him from dallying with Lizzie a bit. (Trollope's novels often feature young men who are basically good, but behave like jerks where women are concerned. See also Johnny Eames, Phineas Finn, and Silverbridge Palliser.) If the BBC made a movie of this, I'd watch the hell out of it.


Phineas Redux (1873) Takes up the story of Phineas Finn again, a year or two after the end of the previous book about him. This time, there's been a murder and our friend Phineas has been accused! Also continues the adventures of Lizzie Eustace.


The Prime Minister (1876) Our old friend Plantagenet Palliser (now Duke of Omnium) is the Prime Minister of England. His wife, the irrepressible Lady Glencora bestirs herself to help him in his career by inviting all and sundry to visit them and plans numerous parties, much to the PM's annoyance. Even worse, she uses her influence as the PM's wife to help the career of a blackguard with whom she has a passing interest, which leads to scandal and humiliation for the Duke. This novel is also the story of Emily Foster, who marries a man her father doesn't approve of and has to face dire consequences as a result.


The Duke's Children (1879) Not even being the Duke of Omnium is protection against young adult children doing stupid and infuriating things. Plantagenet Palliser's three children, Lord Silverbridge (the eldest and heir), Gerald, and Mary, collect gambling debts, get expelled from Oxford, and fall in love with people the Duke doesn't approve of.

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