Oh, what a maddening book!
As I read there were moments when I thought this might be my favourite Trollope (to date) and there were moments when I thought it would be at the bottom of the list.
In the end I did like it. But ….
The story spins around Lizzie Greystock, who will quickly rise to become Lady Eustace.
Lizzie was the only child of the disreputable Admiral Greystock, who died leaving her nothing but debts. Fortunately his daughter had learned to live by her wits, and she realised that to marry money to make her way in the world. And so she chose to live with a rather difficult elderly relation, because that put her in the right location and the right strata of society to catch a wealthy husband.
She caught Sir Florian Eustace. He was exceedingly rich, but he was in poor health, and Lizzie was a widow before her first wedding anniversary. She was wealthy, she would soon be the other of the Eustace heir, and she was in possession of the Eustace Diamonds; a fabulous diamond necklace, valued at ten thousand pounds then, which equates to around half a million now
Lord Fawn proposed, but he tried to back out when he realised that dispute over the diamonds might have consequences for his own reputation for her. Lizzie didn’t want to marry a an like that, but she wasn’t going to let herself be jilted. She had to be the victor, she had to have the final word. Always.
She was fond of her cousin Frank, the only one of her relations who had stood by her, and Lizzie knew that, as a barrister and a member of parliament with very limited resources, he needed a wealthy bride. She didn’t understand why he didn’t propose. She didn’t know – he didn’t tell her – that he was engaged already.
One night, when she was travelling between her Scottish home and her London home Lizzie’s room was broken into, and the metal chest that kept her diamonds secure was stolen.
Who was responsible? Who had the diamonds?
The answer was surprising, and it seemed inevitable that Lizzie’s lies would be revealed and that she, and anyone close to her, would be ruined.</.
How ever could Lizzie rise above that.
The way the story played out was wonderful.
But I couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t suit its author, that there were other authors who might have handled this particular story rather better.
most of all, I was disappointed that Trollope, who usually had understanding for all of his characters, had none for Lizzie. He said at the start that he didn’t like her and he took every chance he could to point out that she was manipulative, dishonest, a compulsive liar, a thief …..
Yes, she was all of those things, but I understood why. I couldn’t warm to her, but I appreciated that she was taking charge of her own life, that she strove to be successful and to find her ‘corsair’ – the dashing romantic hero who would sweep her off her feet.
She was all those things, but she was so much more than that.
Others are judged less harshly.
Consider Frank, who proposes when he knows his financial situation makes marriage impossible, and who neglects his fiancée because he must look after his cousin’s interests.
Consider Lizzie’s friend Mrs Carbuncle who is determined that her niece Lucy must marry, who pushed her towards an engagement with a horrible man, and who fails to understand that her niece feels only revulsion, so that in the end her mind snaps.
Both of those stories were neglected; they felt secondary, and they are fatally compromised; Lucy would have been much more at home in a Dickens novel; I’d love to see what Wilkie Collins could do with Lucinda’s story.
A lot of this book just didn’t feel like Trollope; it feels like an attempt to do something a little different. There’s an early reference to ‘Vanity Fair’ and though this is a very different story I think that’s telling.
I still have to say that there was much that I loved.
I loved Lady Fawn, who was both warm and gracious, and who did her very best for Lucy.
I loved watching first Lizzie and then Lucy deal with the rather difficult Lady Linlithgow, in very different ways and with very different consequences.
I loved the sojourns – and the incidents – in the Scottish countryside.
I loved watching Lizzie outmanoeuvre Lord Fawn, who was ever bit as wishy-washy and self-serving as I remembered from ‘Phinneas Finn’
Most of all I loved watching Lizzie and following her progress.
Yes, I found much to enjoy, but I’m afraid that the book as a whole didn’t quite work.