The Vicar of Bullhampton by Anthony Trollope

I picked up ‘The Vicar of Bullhampton’ because I was looking for a Trollope that didn’t centre around a will or a court case. I should have read the synopsis a little more carefully because there is a court case – one concerned with crime this time, not inheritance – but I didn’t mind too much, because I found much to enjoy in the three entangling stories involving said vicar.

This isn’t my favourite Trollope – and it’s very nearly a curate’s egg – but I did find a great deal to enjoy.

I was very taken with the vicar – Frank Fenwick – who was a good and compassionate man, with a stubborn streak that stopped him being too perfect. I was equally taken with his wife, Janet, and I loved the relationship between the two of them. They had a real, believable genuinely happy marriage.

The first story is a classic Trollope love triangle, concerning the possible marriage of Mary Lowther, a childhood friend of the vicar’s wife. The Fenwicks promoted a match with Harry Gilmore, a Bullhampton squire and an old friend of the vicar. He fell in love with her; Mary recognised that he was a good man, but knew that she did not him as a wife should love her husband. When Gilore proposed, she does not reject him outright, but she asked for time to consider. Because she knew that he was a good match, and that maybe she would never find her true love. Mary did find true love, with her second cousin, Captain Walter Marrable. But their circumstances meant that they were not in a position to marry, and that they maybe never would be.

My feelings about Mary changed over the course of the story. I worried at first that she would be another Alice Vavasor; when I realised that she wasn’t I came to like her and feel a great deal of sympathy and empathy; sadly that didn’t last. I’m afraid that Mary – as is often the way with people in love – became oblivious to the feelings of others. And it didn’t help that her family story was a little too broad and the development of her true love a little difficult to believe.

490912It wasn’t that it was bad, but I know that Trollope can do much, much better, and I enjoyed the other strands of the story more.

The second story is of the family of Bullhampton’s miller, Jacob Brattle. His youngest son, Sam, had been a hard worker at the mill, but when he fell in with bad company his standards slipped and he was absent far too often. When a Bullhampton farmer was murdered in the course of a burglary suspicion fell of Sam’s associates, and it was known that he had been with them. The vicar had known Sam since he was a young boy, he believed him when he said that he was innocent, and he did his best to help.

He also tried to reconcile the miller with his daughter Carry. She had been seduced by a soldier, she had been thrown out by her appalled father, and since then she had been living as a ‘fallen woman’. This being a Victorian novel Trollope did not address the question of how she survived as a woman alone, but his meaning was clear. Her situation was complicated by her involvement with one of her brother’s associates; but that might also be the key to saving her brother and reuniting her with her father ….

I loved the twists and turns of this story, and I loved the very real emotions and reactions of different family members. But what made this book exceptional was the portrayal of the ‘fallen woman’. She wasn’t repentant and striving to be virtuous, she wasn’t defiant and falling further, she was simply a young woman struggling to come to terms with the consequences of what had happened and the harsh realities of this situation.

This is what I love about Trollope. He’s utterly conventional, writing about the natural roles for women being marriage and motherhood, but on the other hand he clearly hoped for a society that had understanding and compassion for those who struggled to reach those goals.

This books illuminates those different sides of Trollope better than any of the others I have read.

I couldn’t completely believe the way the story of the Brattle family played out, but it felt right – emotionally and psychologically – and I wanted to believe it.

The third story concerned the Marquis of Trowbridge, Bullhampton’s principal landowner. He was so appalled when the vicar took up Sam and Carry Brattle’s causes, that he gives the Methodist minister, Mr Puddleham, a plot of land on which to build a new chapel – a plot of land right opposite the vicarage gates. The Fenwicks were aghast as a red brick edifice grew higher and higher, but they had no idea what they could do about it. Until Mrs. Fenwick’s brother-in-law, a brilliant London barrister, looked into things ….

This story balanced the others beautifully, with a well judged mixture of drama and comedy.

Indeed the balance was what struck me about the whole book: three stories different in tone and content, considering many aspects of the human condition, considering many sides of society, And yet they sat quite naturally together, speaking, profoundly and movingly, about forgiveness, about acceptance, and about reconciliation.

I found much to love. Wonderful, real, believable human characters and relationships; lovely letters, reported by an author telling the tale in his own inimitable style; and a large village – or maybe a small town – in the Wiltshire countryside.

And in the end the strength of the whole allowed me to let go of the weaknesses of some of the parts.

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I ditched my 100 Years of Books project when I made a new design for my reading life towards the end of last year.

I didn’t miss it at first, but in time I did, especially when other people – SimonAnnabel – I’m looking at you! – started lovely new projects!

I’ve learned that I need a project, but I also need plenty of space to read other things.

And so I’m picking up the threads again.

 100 different books by 100 different authors – 1850 to 1949!

But I’ve taken away the deadline. It’ll be done when It’s done.

If it can be done.

I’m not going to read books that I don’t want to read just to fill in missing years so I might never finish. But I think I can, if I do a little re-shuffling of books and authors along the way, so that the authors with many books can fit around the authors with not so many.

I’m going to carry on with my 10% reports every 10 books, and because I’ve read a few books from missing years since I ditched the list I’m able to say – here’s my third 10% report!

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1865 – Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.

1867 – Cometh Up as a Flower by Rhoda Broughton

The story is simple, but it is made special by the way it is told. Nell’s voice was underpinned by excellent writing, and Rhoda Broughton’s understanding of character and her command of the story stopped this from becoming a sensation novel. It’s a very human story of love, passion, betrayal, loss …

1891 – Mona and True Love’s Reward by Mrs Georgie Sheldon

At first I thought that Mona might be a little too nice, a little too good to be interesting, but she grew into a very fine heroine. She continued to be good, but she was ready to stand up for herself, she learned to be practical and capable, and she coped well with some very tricky situations.

1903 – The Girl Behind the Keys by Tom Gallon

She was hired, she was given an advance on the salary that was far more than she had expected, and she learned that the work would be not very demanding at all. It seemed almost too good to be true. It was, and it didn’t take Miss Thorn very long at all to work out that the Secretarial Supply Syndicate was a front for a gang of criminals; con men who were ready to use any means necessary to extract money from their victims.

1910 – The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

I had to love Laura. Her letter’s home were a riot. I loved that she delighted the invitations to tea that the other girls dreaded, because it gave her a chance to examine new bookshelves, and that made the fear of being called on to recite or perform fade into insignificance. I loved her joy when an older girl look her under her wing; and her outrage when she found that she had a young man.

1920 – The Adventurous Lady by J C Snaith

I was intrigued to see J C Snaith described as a ‘teller of enthralling tales.’ I had never heard of the author, and when I went to look for him I found that he was very obscure, but I found a book titled ‘The Adventurous Lady’ that promised so many things I love – a train, a governess, a country house, a play – and so I had to start reading.

1927 – Red Sky at Morning by Margaret Kennedy

William and Emily Crowne were the loveliest of children. They were attractive, they were imaginative, and they played so happily together, caught up in their own world and oblivious to the world around them. They didn’t see how jealous the Frobisher children, Trevor and Charlotte, were. They didn’t know that their father’s notoriety would follow them into their adult lives.

1928 – Grey Mask by Patricia Wenworth

Something else I particularly liked was the way Patricia Wentworth threaded serious questions – about Margaret’s life as a single woman and the choices that she made, about Margot’s vulnerability and the position she had been left in, and most of all about the consequences of not knowing our own history – through an classic golden age style mystery. The story is bold, but its author clearly understands where subtlety is required.

1935 – Four Gardens by Margery Sharp

Caroline  – the heroine of ‘Four Gardens’ – would be of the same generation as my grandmother. My mother’s mother that is; my father’s mother was a good deal younger. They were born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, near the end of her reign but not so near the end that they didn’t remember her. Their values were formed by that age, and by the Edwardian era that followed, and after that they lived through Great War and the repercussions that reverberated through the twenties, the thirties ….

1945 – Haxby’s Circus by Katharine Susannah Prichard

I read that Katharine Susannah Prichard travelled with a circus when she was researching this novel, and I think it shows. The pictures she paints of the people and their world are wonderful.

* * * * * * *

The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first two 10% reports are here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already, but I have lots more years to fill and so recommendations – especially for the earliest years – would be very welcome.

 

A Second Meeting with Cousin Henry

Four years ago I started to read my first Trollope – ‘Cousin Henry’ – for a Classics Circuit tour. I didn’t get on with the book, I didn’t finish it, but I at least had the sense to write:

“I suspect that I may still come to love Trollope. I just need another time and another book.”

When I saw the same book in the library again last month I thought it was time to try again, time to see if another time and the other books I’ve read would make all the difference.

I think they did; because this time I liked ‘Cousin Henry’, and this time I had to keep turning the pages until I reached the end of the book. It’s a short book,  and it moves along more quickly than any other Trollope I have read, but it is still distinctively and recognisably him.

The story opens on a country estate in Carmarthenshire. Indefer Jones, the owner of that estate was elderly, his health was failing, and he was contemplating his will.

He wanted to make his niece, Isabel Brodrick, his heir. She was his sister’s daughter, and she Isabel had lived with her uncle for many years, since her mother had died and her father had remarried. There was a strong between uncle and niece; and Isabel loved the estate and was well liked by her uncle’s staff and tenants. She was the perfect heir in all respects but one: she was a woman whose claim came from the female line.

6841988Custom and convention said that Henry Jones, the son of Indefer Jones’ younger brother should be his uncle’s heir. Henry had run up debts, he had been sent down from Oxford, and he had found a job, of sorts in London. He didn’t come near, and he didn’t have the best of reputations.

The choice was intriguing, questioning the importance of primogeniture, and asking what roles a woman might play.

A marriage between Isabel and Henry was suggested, and it could have resolved their uncle’s dilemma; Henry was willing, but Isabel was proud, she knew what was said of her cousin, and she dismissed the possibility out of hand.

Indefer Jones died and the will that was found in his desk showed that tradition had won the day. Henry Jones was the heir.

Isabel returned to the home of her father and step-mother, and  Henry Jones took up residence in the manor house.

Friends and neighbours, staff and tenants, were all disappointed with the will. And rumours started to spread The story was that shortly before his death, Indefer Jones had asked two visiting tenant farmers to witness a new will. It hadn’t been drawn up by his solicitor, but he told them that all would be well. He had copied the wording of an earlier will; all he had changed was the name ….

Cousin Henry knew that the story was true, because he had, purely by chance, found that will, in the library, tucked into a book of sermons his estate to Isabel. That was a great blow to a young man hoping for a new life. He couldn’t quite bring himself to bring to destroy the will, and so he tucked it back into the book and said nothing.

He found that easy, but he found living with the guilt and the fear of discovery very, very difficult. And Cousin Henry found it very hard to dissemble, and, though none of them could prove it, Henry’s manner, his actions, his responses to certain questions, convinced many people he was guilty.

Meanwhile, Isabel’s pride lead her to reject the overtures that Cousin Henry made as a sop to his conscience, turn down the proposal of the young clergyman she loved because she was poor, and offer to go out and earn her own living rather than be a burden to her father.

The story worked so well because the characters of Isabel and Henry were so well drawn. They were both fallible; he was weak while she was strong; that was interested and it meant my sympathies were shared between the two, albeit unequally.

I couldn’t say that that I liked either, but, as always with Trollope, I understood, I was involved, and I had to know how the story would play out.

The story is simple, it feels a little contrived in places, but as a psychological study – particularly of the effects of guilt – it’s brilliant!

The story comes to a head when Carmarthen Herald publishes a series of articles accusing Henry of destroying the will, or at the very least having knowledge of its existence. The family solicitor tells Henry that he had no choice but to sue for libel, and he sets the wheels in motion.

But, as he observes Henry, his certainty that there is no libel grows.

I guessed the ending long before it happened, but it didn’t matter. I enjoyed seeing the story play out.

Now I know that this was the wrong book four years ago, and it shouldn’t be anyone’s first Trollope, but when you have come to know and love him it is definitely worth reading.

The Story of Twenty One Books

That’s the sum of this month’s book shopping – it was an exceptionally good month.

This may be a long post, but I resolved to record all of my purchases this year.

* * * * * * *

20150328_171336These were ‘library building’ purchases. I have a dozen or so authors whose books I am gradually collecting as and when affordable copies appear.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give back the library’s copy of The Flowering Thorn back until I had a copy to keep – that’s always the way with Margery Sharp – and I spotted a Fontana edition that was if not cheap then at least much less expensive than many. I do like Fontana paperbacks, but I have to say that in this instance the image and the tagline suggest that the artist and the writer haven’t read the books.

And the rather nondescript book that one is resting on is an first edition of ‘Return I Dare Not’ by Margaret Kennedy!

* * * * * * *

The next round of shopping was not at my expense – because I won £50 of books from Harper Collins! At first I was overwhelmed by the choice, but when I saw Vintage on the list of imprints my path became clear.

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  • ‘A Long Time Ago’ filled another gap in my Margaret Kennedy collection.
  •  Remembering Darlene’s words of praise, I picked ‘Here Be Dragons’ to add to my Stella Gibbons collection
  •  ‘A Street Haunting and Other Essays’ by Virginia Woolf looked too lovely to resist
  •  Several people recommended ‘The Black Count’ by Tom Reiss after I fell in love with The Count of Monte Cristo’ so I took their advice.
  • And of course I was going to have a copy of Victoria Glendinning’s much lauded biography of Anthony Trollope!

I’d say that was £50 very well invested.

* * * * * * *

Visits to two charity shops I hadn’t been into for a long time paid dividends.

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I remember my parents reading Nevil Shute and Howard Spring, I loved the books from their shelves that I read years ago, and so I was delighted to find two titles I didn’t know in lovely editions.

I saw ‘Death of an Avid Reader’ by Frances Brody in the library and though I liked the look of it I didn’t pick it up because I knew that I had copies of earlier books in the same series at home unread. But when I spotted a like new copy I had to bring it home.

I was always going to pounce on a book by Francis Brett Young that I didn’t have on my shelves. I love his writing. I hesitated over this one because it’s a history of England in verse, but in the end I decided that I didn’t pick this one up I might never see another copy and I might live to regret it. When I came home I remembered that I loved the extract I knew, and I knew that I had made the right decision.

* * * * * * *

I picked up two more books when I dropped off several bags of books to another charity shop.

20150328_171629A lovely hardback edition of the collected stories of Jane Gardam that was only published last year for £2 was a wonderful bargain.

I don’t know much about R C Hutchison – and the dust jacket of this book doesn’t give much away – but I picked the book up because it was in condition and it clearly dated from one of my favourite eras. I found some 1950s leaflets from the reprints of society, that somebody must have used as bookmarks inside, adverting authors including Winifred Holtby, Somerset Maugham, Howard Spring and Margery Sharp. I too that as a sign that I should buy the book. When I got home and looked up Hutchinson I found that he had been reissued by Faber Finds and by Bloomsbury Reader, which has to be a good sign.

* * * * *

And then there was the Oxfam Shop.

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I can only assume that someone with very similar taste to me had been clearing out, because among lots of books I already own I found:

  • Two more by Jane Gardam
  •  Two British Library Crime Classics I I hadn’t meant to start collecting but now I have four and I think maybe I am.
  • Childhood memoirs by Marcel Pagnol, whose books inspired two of my favourite films – ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon Du Source.’

I looked in again next time I was passing, just in case there were any more. There weren’t, but I found this.

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I know the library have copies, but it was such a nice set.

* * * * * * *

Just one more – a brand new hardback that I just had to run out and buy – another  ‘library building’ purchase.

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“The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith’s world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle: among them Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Tennant, William Walton, John Betjeman, the Sitwells and Cecil Beaton – for whom she was ‘all the muses’.

Set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s, the sophistication of the 1930s and the drama and austerity of the Second World War and with an extraordinary cast of friends and acquaintances, Anna Thomasson brings to life, for the first time, the fascinating, and curious, friendship of a bluestocking and a bright young thing.“

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I’ve stayed out of bookshops today, so that is definitely it for March.

It’s been a bit mad – some lovely review copies have landed too – but there won’t be many months like that.

Though we’ll be visiting one or two bookshops when we have a week’s holiday in Devon next month …..

The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope

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.

0140433449And 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.

 

The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

I didn’t mean to read ‘The Prime Minister’ quite so soon, or to rush through it quite so quickly, but I had to step back into Trollope’s world because there seemed to be so many old friends I wanted to see again, so many interesting new people to meet, so many intriguing things happening.

Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, was Prime Minister!

He headed a coalition government, and he had risen not so much as the result of his own charisma and ambition, more because there was no other candidate acceptable to all of the parties and willing to do the job. Now to rise to such a position is a great thing, but I feared for the new Prime Minister. He was too honest, too sensitive, and too unwilling to compromise his principles. Wonderful qualities in so many ways, but qualities you would want in a right-hand man, that would make you want to pick him for your team or hold him up as a role model; but not qualities that would make him a great leader of men.

The Duchess of Omnium – the erstwhile Lady Glencora Palliser – on the other hand was in her element. She would entertain, she would socialise, she would intrigue. She would play her part to the full, and she was in so many ways a far better politician that her husband. Never was it clearer that they loved each other but they would never quite understand each other.

It was lovely to watch them and to listen to them. And, maybe even better, were the conversations between the Duchess and her dearest friend Mrs Finn – the erstwhile Madame Max. That friendship is so well balanced and so well drawn.

6472855The stories of the Duke and Duchess are set against – and entangled with – the stories of Ferdinand Lopez and Emily Wharton.

Ferdinand Lopez was a handsome adventurer of Portuguese-Jewish descent. It was clear from the start that he was to be the villain of the piece, and he plotted and schemed to acquire wealth and rise up through society. He was determined to secure the hand of Emily Wharton, the daughter of a wealthy and successful barrister. Mr Wharton was firmly set against the match, and determined that his daughter would only marry the son of an English gentleman. He favoured Emily’s childhood friend Arthur Fletcher, but Lopez had her heart.

The deadlock was broken when Lopez, apparently, saved the life of Emily’s brother, and her father reluctantly consented to the marriage.

It was then that Lopez’s campaign escalated. He used his wife to extract significant sums of money from his father-in-law to fund speculations, he exploited – and cheated his lower class business partner. He has some successes but he had more failures, and put more and more pressure on his wife to extract more funds from her father. His attempt to enter the House of Commons, to established him as an English gentleman, fails and Arthur Fletcher takes the seat. he blames everyone but himself.

That had consequence for the Duchess of Omnium – who had been charmed by Lopez and so gave him her support – and in turn for the Prime Minister, who could not, would not, allow his wife’s name – or his principles – to be compromised.

Mr Wharton realised that when he dismissed Lopez’s suit he had neglected to consider other things that would make him an unsuitable husband for his daughter. He did what he could, Emily knew that she had to accept the consequences of her decision; the arc of the relationship between father and daughter was one of my favourite things about this novel.

As Lopez made his determined rise and when he came tumbling down he did a great deal of damage. When both his business and his marriage collapsed around him he made the most dramatic of exits. The repercussions of his actions though would be felt for a long, long time.

His end was inevitable, but the gap that he left was huge, he was such a fascinating, charismatic character. It took the story a while to re-establish itself without him.

But there is a whole world in this story, and the world continues to turn. I loved watching so much going on, at Westminster, in the town, in the country. The scope of the story is vast, and the author’s command of it is magnificent.

There are themes that are horribly relevant today – the consequences of coalition government, and the role the fourth estate – represented here by Mr Quintus Slide …..

There are many things that can be said about this book. I have come to see that Trollope accepted society’s norms and believed that they would continue to hold sway; that he could draw a good villain but he clearly gave much more time to the great and the good; that he gave consideration to how a gentleman should live and behave, and of the consequences of their social position and above all of marriage for women ……

Above all this is a wonderfully rich human drama.

The world that Trollope has created in the Palliser novels and the people that live in it are so very, very real.

I find it easy to simply accept it for what it is, and I love spending time there.

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

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 Redux 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.