Even though I knew what had happened between the end of the last Palliser novel and that start of this next – and final – novel in said series, and yet the opening sentence of ‘The Duke’s Children’ was heart-breaking.
“No one, probably, ever felt himself to be more alone in the world than our old friend the Duke of Omnium, when the Duchess died.”
The brightest star of the Palliser family had been extinguished, and I was so sorry that I would never meet Lady Glencora again, and that I would never see her with her children, upon whom the spotlight falls in this story.
I must give Trollope credit though, for the way he reported the death and its consequences. Their was no sentiment, only real emotion, and he explained exactly as a concerned friend should; showing concern speaking with restraint, and with understanding the greatest loss was to her family.
And while I wish that he hadn’t done it, I think I can understand why he did; The Duke’s Children speaks about how the world changes, and about how one generation may have such different ideas, and may or may not learn, from their parents or from their children..
Not long retired and weighed down by grief, the Duke found himself having to play a greater part in family life than he had before. He struggled, because there were things that Glencora had never told him, and because his three children …..
Well, children who had inherited the very different strengths of their mother and father might have changed the world, but these children seemed to have inherited quite a few of their weaknesses.
It was clear that Trollope’s sympathies lay mainly with their beleaguered father; and I have to say that, on the whole, mine did too.
- Lord Silverbridge was his eldest child and the heir to his dukedom, and he was a constant worry to his father. He was sent down from Oxford for painting the Dean’s house red. He entangled himself with some dubious characters in the horsey set, and it took a great deal of money to disentangle him. He was elected to parliament, but, though the Pallisers had always been Whigs, he became a Tory. And then he fell in love with the grand-daughter of a dock-worker whose family had made money and risen up to the very top of American society.
- Lady Mary was his only daughter. The Duke would learn that she was secretly to a friend of her elder brother; a penniless aspiring MP who he considered most unsuitable. He struggled with the knowledge that the Duchess had sanctioned the match shortly before her death, and that the Duchess had been prohibited from marrying the man she loved and steered towards a more advantageous match with him.That was heartbreaking, and as Lady Mary proved herself to be as wilful as her mother and as intransigent as her father, it was hard to see how both could be happy.
- Gerald, the youngest, was at university. He narrowly avoided being sent down, like his brother; and his penchant for cards and horses cost him rather more than his generous allowance.
They were all engaging, they all had such potential, and it was clear that they loved and respected their father, that they wanted him to be proud of them, but my goodness they had lessons to learn. That they couldn’t have everything as they wanted, that life would demand choices and compromises. That when they chose a course of action there would be consequences and they had to accept them.
In time the Duke realised that, for the sake of his children, he had to make some compromises. It was so lovely, after seeing Plantagenet Palliser as a husband and as a politician, to see him as a parent who loved his children and who tried to do his best for them, even though he couldn’t quite understand or like their new their new modern ways.
He couldn’t help admiring their spirit and determination, and he saw much of his beloved Glencora in them.
There was little room for new characters outside the family circle to make an impression in this story, except for one. Lady Mabel Grex came from an old family, but it was a family in decline: her father and brother gambled away the family fortune, and so all she had was her good name. She needed to make a good marriage, and she could have made a good marriage, but her pride and her hauteur meant that both Frank Tregear, Lady Mary’s great love, and Lord Silverbridge slipped through her fingers. Of course she became embittered ……
It would seem that Trollope too accepted that the world was changing.
He brought the Palliser saga to a fine conclusion, with two weddings and the Duke returning to public life.
I am so sorry that the story doesn’t continue, and that I have to part company with so many wonderful characters; but I am so glad that I now know why so many readers love Trollope, and that I still have a great many of his books ahead of me to read.