This is the fifth in Trollope's 'Palliser' series of political novels, following on from:
Once again it stars the wonderfully wayward Lady Glencora, now the Duchess of Omnium, and her husband the Duke, who used to be Plantagenet Palliser when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and has now been kicked upstairs into the Other Place. It also features Irish adventurer MP Phineas Finn and that splendid little minx Lady Eustace.
But the plot revolves around Emily Wharton and her perverse attempt to marry Ferdinand Lopez. Emily's father opposes the match on the grounds that Lopez is not an English gentleman and that too little is known of his antecedents. It is taken for granted that Lopez, who keeps a coach and pairs and is known to banker Mills Happerton, is wealthy although no one can say where the source of his wealth resides. But Emily is obstinate and gets her own way, with predictable consequences. Lopez immediately puts pressure on Emily to extract money from her barrister father so he can keep his rather dodgy speculations afloat.
There are predictable consequences. Emily and her family are tormented by the unscrupulous blackguard. In the end, the rascal is ruined, together with his rather lower class business partner; Lopez commits suicide. Emily is free to marry her original love, the suitable boy next door but she, feeling herself defiled and worthless by her contact with the rogue, is determined to stay a widow in perpetual self-punishment.
I've spoiled it. But Trollope doesn't seem to be interested in suspense. In Phineas Redux, which revolves around a murder, he tells us whodunnit almost as soon as the crime is committed. and in this book there are no surprises. Lopez, characterised as a villain from the start, is a villain. His suicide happens three quarters of the way through the book, leaving a full quarter for the loose ends to be resolved.
In fairness, there is a second plot which is intertwined with the first. The Duke of Omnium, Plantagenet Palliser, becomes Prime Minister of a coalition government. Lady Glencora is in her element, arranging massive house parties. But the Duke hates it. He is too honourable for politics, particularly the sometimes messy task of keeping a coalition together. He is far too thin-skinned; once the People's Banner gets his knife into him he squirms with every word. He can't even smile at people and the parties Glencora organises are often without him, the star attraction, because he is working quietly in his study. It is this exploration of character that Trollope is most interested in. But without the Lopez story, the book would be very heavy and slow. Like all the others, it is 80 chapters long. By his uneven plotting, Trollope undermines the momentum of his book and leaves some parts very slow indeed.
It is also a vehicle for Trollope, who probably thought he was a great liberal reformer, to parade his class snobbery and casual racism.
The Palliser series is concluded in The Duke's Children in which the Duke's political beliefs are tersted when his children threaten to make unsuitable marriages.
Beautifully written, great characters but some bits drag out interminably. October 2015; 691 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57