Phineas Finn, the son of an Irish doctor, training to be a barrister in London, is encouraged to become an MP. Unfortunately he has no money. This is a double problem since MPs are unwaged and since it costs them money to fight an election. Fortunately he finds a rotten borough which is in the gift of a Lord and is elected to that; his father pays him an allowance to survive. The obvious solution is to find a rich woman to marry; he becomes friendly with several. However, each of the ladies to whom he is attracted has other suitors one of whom pips him to the post and another challenges him to a duel. Through all of this he has to learn parliamentary business and face the ordeal of giving a maiden speech. But he prospers and is chosen to become a very junior minister (unfortunately this requires him to resign his seat and then stand in it again which costs him more money). Through all of this a Reform Bill is being enacted and he votes to disenfranchise the rotten borough he represents (he does this twice eventually).
Truly the path of becoming an MP when you are penniless and of marrying a suitable woman whom you actually love is not easy!
A standard, if long-winded, Victorian romance distinguished by the character of Violet Effingham who mercilessly teases her guardian aunt and who refuses to marry without being in love. As in Can You Forgive Her? there is a woman who is trying to manipulate her best friend into marrying her brother, a rather unsuitable and violent man, and there is a woman who marries for money and regrets it. The sadness of this marriage is very well portrayed although it would be nice if the dour Scot of a husband had some redeeming features.
I have a couple of niggles. Some incidents seem to come out of the blue. Phineas contracts a debt on behalf of a friend; this hangs over his head for some time making a nice pressure on him; then it is suddenly paid. An incident with some garrotters enables Phineas to save the life of a colleague; this is not fully exploited. Finally, about half way through and at a point when Phineas doesn't really need it, he inherits money which he then invests. But this is then forgotten when he has subsequent money troubles. It could have kept him going for some time but it lies unnoticed in a bank account.
On the other hand, Trollope really surprised me with his views which I hadn't expected in a Victorian, even one of a Whiggish/ Radical persuasion:
- "How can there be honour in what comes ... by chance? ... Honour comes from the mode of winning it."
- "I am not saying that people are equal; but that the tendency of all law-making ... should be to reduce the inequalities."
- "The wish of every honest man should be to assist in lifting up those below him"
Trollope write a lot of books and he wrote quickly and this isn't great literature. But it is a good story, well told. June 2015; 873 pages
Also on this blog:
- The next book in the series is about the scheming, lying minx Lizzie Eustace, a great character: The Eustace Diamonds
- Phineas Redux: when Phineas returns to parliament and is tried for murder
- The Prime Minister: another mugging in Hyde Park, another unscrupulous foreign adventurer seducing another English gentlewoman for her father's money
- The Duke's Children: in which the children of Mr Palliser, now the Duke of Omnium, threraten to make yet more unsuitable marriages and test whether he can actually apply his Liberal principles to his own family.