I really didn’t mean to read Phineas Redux quite yet, I intended to give some other classic authors some time, after spending so much time with Trollope this year, but my fondness for Phineas and my curiosity to know what was happening in an a world full of so many characters I have come to love …..
I just had to know!
The story begins a few years after ‘Phineas Finn’ and a few months after ‘The Eustace Diamonds’. I’ve seen suggestions that you could read the two Phineas novels back to back, but if you did that there are things that you might not appreciate in this book, because it picks up a few threads and a few characters from ‘The Eustace Diamonds’.
Phineas Finn is living in Dublin, alone, since his wife has died, and though he has a good job and a healthy income he is bored. He misses parliament, he misses his London life, and so, when he sees a chance to return, he decides to risk everything , hoping that he will be able to pick up the threads of his old life.
He’s still the same Phineas, as charming, as straightforward as ever, but time and experience has made his just a little jaded.
He finds that some things have changed and some things are still the same.
Madam Max had turned down a proposal from the Duke of Omnium; she had hoped to win Phineas, not knowing that he had already decided that his future lay with Mary Flood-Jones. She remained a good friend to the Duke, whose health was failing, and whose death would bring her a bequest that she was not prepared to accept. And she proved to be the best of friends to Phineas.
That death meant that Plantagenet Palliser was the new Duke of Omnium. Lady Glencora was in her element; I love that was so passionate about her causes, and her friendship with Madame Max is a delight. Her husband, on the other hand, was concerned that he would be ineligible to be chancellor of the exchequer again, and that he may not be able to see his work to reform the currency through to the end.
Lord Chilton and Violet Effingham had married and were happily settled. They had house-guests, and that set off a subplot – a love triangle that had echoes of one from an earlier book and yet was quite different. Trollope does see to have lots of variants on the love triangle, and I have to say that he does them very well. It was a little strange, moving from characters I knew so well to brand new characters, but I understood why they were there. One of the reasons was to keep the Chilterns in the story – as he still refused to have anything to do with politics – I loved that Lord Chiltern had grown from an angry young man into a comfortable curmudgeon, that Violet had found her niche as a wife and mother, and that the two of the understood each other so well.
Lady Laura Kennedy had fled to the continent, to escape her cold, unsympathetic husband. Her situation was dreadful, because, if she returned to England her husband could compel her return to him, as she had no grounds for divorce. The shift in her relationship with Phineas was interesting – in the first book he wanted more of her than she would give, and in this book that reversed. The arc of her story was inevitable and it was heart-breaking;
Of course Phineas became part of all of their lives again, and he regained his seat in parliament.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Robert Kennedy objected to Phineas visititing his wife, and it became horrible clear that he was beginning to lose his reason. And Mr Bonteen, his greatest political foe, and maybe the next chancellor of the exchequer, is determined that Phineas will be kept from high office.
The consequence of all of this is that Phineas must fight, first against a terrible slander, and then against a charge of murder.
There’s a great deal going on, and inevitably there are highs and lows. There’s quite a bit of politics to wade through at the beginning of the book, there are quiet spells between that great dramas, and it has to be said that Trollope is not a great crime writer.
But the two great dramas, and the human dramas that spin around them, are wonderful.
It works so well because – I think – Trollope was what my mother would call a people person.
He understood his characters, how their relationships worked, how life and events would change them.
He understood how their world worked; he may or may not of liked that, but he presented it, clear-sightedly, as it was.
He cared and he made me care; it’s as simple as that.