- Can You Forgive Her?
- Phineas Finn in which we first meet the hero of this book
- The Eustace Diamonds in which the little liar Lizzie Eustace is very naughty about a very precious set of diamonds
The fifth book, The Prime Minister, is also on this blog as is the final book, The Duke's Children in which the Duke finds it difficult to apply his political principles to his own family when his children threaten to make non-ducal marriages.
In some ways Phineas Redux is the most exciting of the books. At its heart is a murder trial. Trollope issues a spoiler almost as soon as the crime is committed by declaring who is innocent and who is guilty; by doing this he forfeits a great deal of possible dramatic tension. But he did that in The Eustace Diamonds as well. When it comes to the question of who Phineas Finn, handsome MP, will marry, Trollope draws this out as far as he can; it isn't settled until chapter 79 out of 80. Trollope can do tension but he only seems to be interested in who will marry whom.
And in fox hunting. He loves fox hunting. Every book so far has had a fox hunting scene. Perhaps it is the only real opportunity for his characters to escape the stuffy drawing rooms and the strictly controlled speech in favour of wildness and excitement. But Newgate Prison is a pretty uncontrolled environment too (although the cell in this case is carpeted with bed, chairs and two tables, books and writing materials, and plenty of good food; what it was to be rich and on remand.
Trollope also continues to show his casual anti-semitism in his appalling treatment of Mr Emilius, a man who seems to have no saving grace whatsoever. At least he seemed nice in The Eustace Diamonds. Trollope's other weakness is in the relentless defence of a class system in which the affairs of idle young gentlemen whose private income makes them go into debt with tradesmen and who can't marry because they are too poor (but much richer than the servants) are so much more interesting than anything a lower class person might do.
But is this book any good?
It is, of course, a soap opera and like any soap opera it is more believable when you have met the characters elsewhere. Trollope has some very believable characters and his women in particular are superb: Lady Glencora is a magnificently spoilt little rich girl become manipulative society hostess whose very house is named Matching in honour of her dating agency work; Madame Max is much more mysterious but still a nicely rounded character. I enjoyed Adelaide Palliser, a forthright young girl, who is courted by the smitten but dreadful Ned Spooner and puts him down brilliantly. And Plantagent Palliser is a wonderful dry stick of a cabinet minister. But Phineas annoyed me: he had such scruples and allowed his emotions to blow him that way and this; he didn't deserve a happy ending.
But the crucial test is whether this book kept me reading. Again there are passages I skipped and Trollope would have benefited from some severe pruning. There were sections, especially at the start, when things were a little slow and the gentle comedy was all that was available to help. The actual murder does not take place until the second volume, over half way through the book. After that the book fairly zips along, despite the spoilers, until the end when it takes a little while to wrap up. So good characters, mostly good dialogue and a plot that is good in parts. Worth a read.
September 2015; 569 pages