The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

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

73954 Lizzie said that they were hers; the Eustace family insisted that they were part of the estate and must be returned to the trustees. Though Lizzie knew her claim was shaky she held her ground, she spun a very good story, and she began to look for a husband who she hoped would protect her and look after her interests.

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.

Lucy Morris had been left alone in the world, just like Lizzie, but she had dealt with the situation rather differently. She accepted that she had to earn her own living, she became a governess, and she had the qualities she needed to make her a very good governess. She loved Frank, she knew that he loved her, but because she worked for the Fawn family she found herself in a rather awkward position.

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.

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

I fell in love with Can You Forgive Her, my first Trollope and my first Palliser novel, and when I had to leave that book behind I knew that if wouldn’t be too long before I stepped back into Trollope’s world with the next novel in this particular sequence. The fact that this was the novel where politics came to the fore worried me a little, but it wasn’t a problem; I was pulled right into the human story by the same storyteller I had come to love as I read that first book.

Phineas Finn himself was a charming, handsome, and eminently personable young Irishman. His parents had supported him when he moved to London to study to become a barrister. When he qualified his father, a country doctor, hoped that he would come home, that he would practice his profession, establish his own home, marry his childhood sweetheart, raise a family …. but Phineas had other ideas. He had an interest in politics, and a friends had suggested that he could become a member of parliament. Because in the days before parliamentary reform all that you needed were the needs of friends in high places who could offer a pocket borough.

Phineas FinnThere was one major drawback: he would be paid nothing as a member of parliament. But Phineas persuaded his father to support him for just a little longer, until he established himself and could either begin to practice the law or secure a lucrative government post. Doctor Finn gave way, because his wife and daughters were so thrilled at the prospect of what Phineas might achieve, and so, secretly, was he.

Success came easily to Phineas, thanks to his good locks his charm, and his straightforward, open and honest character. But he often ran into trouble, because it took him a long time to learn that the motivations of others were not so simple.

Lady Laura Standish was Phineas’ first mentor, and he fancied himself in love with her; she though chose to marry for the things that she thought she needed; money, influence, and social standing in the shape of Mr Robert Kennedy. But she was to learn that those were the wrong reasons, that she had married man who could had to rule everything and would brook no arguments. It was heart-breaking to watch the marriage fail, and to understand the terrible consequences that had for an intelligent and compassionate woman.

Violet Effingham; a lovely young heiress rich enough to remain single and independent if she wishes it, though that would come at quite a social cost. She was Laura’s closest friend and there was an understanding between her Laura’s brother, Lord Chiltern, but Violet was having doubts. Because he was short-tempered, thoughtless, and not inclined to see her point of view.

She was drawn to Phineas and he was drawn to her; but that upset her friend, her friend’s brother and her friend’s brother; and that was unfortunate, because it was his pocket borough that gave Phineas his seat in parliament ….

Trollope clearly understood with Violets reluctance to marry, and  Laura’s regret that she did marry, and he draws both of them, and the friendship between them quite beautifully. I drew parallels with the two friends, one linked romantically with the other’s brother scenario in this book and the one in ‘Can You Forgive Her’. There were some similarities but there were far more differences, and I thought that the characters and relationships in this book were rather more subtly drawn.

I found the continuing friendship between Laura and Violet especially engaging.

While all of this was going on Phineas was finding that his conscience and his party’s politics or his sponsor’s interests were often at odds, and that the political world was very tricky indeed.

Trollope deploys all of  his characters well, and there are plenty of events and incidents along the way to keep things interesting. I’ve pulled out a few strands, but in the book they are interwoven, and everything works together beautifully.

And then – when the story was simmering nicely, but I was wondering how it was going to fill such a big book – another intriguing woman character made her entrance.  Madame Max Goesler was young widow, with a  rather dubious past, but with more that enough money to assure her a place in society.  In the hands of some authors she would have been a stereotype, but Trollope made her a wonderfully real woman; the was independent, was bright and she understood people very well indeed.

Drawing parallel’s with ‘Can You Forgive Her’ again, I could compare Madame Max’s role in this book with the role of the widow in that first book. And again the second book wins, with a story arc that is gentler and sits more naturally in the book as a whole.

I must come back to Phineas Finn though, because his story is the thread that holds the story together. Trollope does a wonderful job of having Phineas learn and grow as the story progresses, without losing any of the things that made him such an appealing character when the story began.

The story plays out beautifully.

I’ve already moved on to ‘The Eustace Diamonds’ and I’ m looking forward to picking up Phineas’s story again in ‘Phineas Redux’ ….

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.

I found that I loved the way Trollope wrote, taking such trouble to introduce his characters, making me understand why he was telling their story and guiding me so carefully through it, being present without ever being intrusive.

He cared, and he made me care.

13688929The ‘Her’ of the title is Alice Vavasor. She was engaged to Mr John Grey, who was wise, thoughtful, wealthy and handsome. He was genuinely good man, and a very fine catch. But Alice had doubts. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him; her doubts were about the life they would live together, a life that she feared she would find dreadfully dull.

Kate Vasnovour, Alice’s cousin and dearest friend, hoped that Alice would marry her brother, George. They had been engaged, George and Alice, but Alice had broken off the engagement, on account of something that George did. But Kate continued to promote the match, because she loved George, she loved Alice, and she was quite sure that they would be happy.

Alice did break her engagement to Mr Grey. She thought she was doing the right thing, that she should honour her earlier engagement, but her family were appalled.

Kate thought it wise to go away for a little while, and so she went to stay with her Aunt Greenow, in the country. Mrs Greenhow had married an very elderly, very wealthy husband, and he had died shortly afterwards, leaving her a young, wealthy and very eligible widow. Two vey different men were rivals for her hand: Mr Cheesacre, a portly but prosperous farmer, eager to show what a fine husband he would make; and Captain Bellfield, a handsome, poor, unemployed soldier, who was maybe playing things a little more cleverly. Mrs Greenhow was having a lovely time, enjoying the trappings of a grieving widow, and loving being the centre of attention.

That was the light relief, and it was wonderfully entertaining.

George proposed to Alice and, though she was still worried that she had behaved badly to Mr Grey, she accepted. Because she had decided that the best thing she could do was to try to curb George’s worst excesses, try to help him to make something of his life. George’s wanted to get into parliament, but he lacked the necessary means; Alice did have the means and she promised that she would use her fortune to support his political career. She kept her promise, but success brought out the worst in George. Alice soon realised that she had made a terrible mistake, but she wanted to do the right thing she wanted to keep her promises.

Alice retreated to the country, to stay with another cousin, Lady Glencora Palliser. Glencora was the richest heiress in England, she was young, she was pretty, she was vivacious, and she was the new wife of Plantagenet Palliser, one of the most promising young politicians in the country. But she wasn’t happy. Her family had steered her very firmly her away from the handsome, charming and dissolute Burgo Fitzgerald, and towards an eminently suitable marriage. But Glencora found Plantagenet stiff and boring, and he seemed to find her frivolous and silly. She told herself that she was still in love with Burgo, and she dreamed of running away with him.

Trollope brings together these stories, stories of three very different women, beautifully. Their situations have similarities and they have differences, and they all have to make decisions about the future, about which path they will take; decisions made difficult by conflicts between family duty, social acceptance, personal principles and their own happiness.

He managed every element of the plot, he attended to every detail. My only, minor, criticism would be that there were moments when he overplayed the comedy.

It was fascinating to watch the characters become clearer, as I spent more time with them and as circumstances showed different sides of them. The story grew, it became deeper, and I was pulled further and further in.

I loved the contrasts: the comic relief against the serious drama; the steady Alice against the high-spirited Glencora; the good men, Mr Grey and Palliser against the bad men, George Vasnavour and Burgo Fitzgerald. And though I use the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ because I can’t find better adjectives, but Trollope was much more subtle that that; all four men were fallible human beings, with different strengths and weaknesses.

And I could forgive Alice; though I didn’t feel it was my place to judge her, because she was simply a young woman without a mother to guide her, and she tried to do the right thing but she struggled to know what the right thing was.

I was involved. I cared. Sometimes I knew what would happen, but often I was surprised. I felt so many emotions. And I knew that I would miss this world and these people when the story was over.

There were country houses, there were London streets, their were foreign tours, there was a disputed will, and in the end there would be marriage ….

And Trollope breathed life into it all, into every single thing in this book.

It’s a big book but it didn’t feel like a big book, and I’m already reading another big book, the next book in the series.

Sixes

It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:

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Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

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Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

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Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

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Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick

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Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane

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Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

Sixes

It was Jo’s idea – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books many I have loved. And I’ve done it!

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Six Books that took me on extraordinary journeys

The Harbour by Francesca Brill
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to the Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff

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Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

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Six books from the past that drew me back there

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn
The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith
As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas

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Six books from authors I know will never let me down

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens
Monogram by G B Stern
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

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Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and was still caught up with in July

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone
The Deamstress by Maria Dueñas
Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
White Ladies by Francis Brett Young

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

Works in Progress

I will never be a one book at a time girl. I need a book to hand for a variety of possible moods and for different concentration level. I need big books that I know I can get lost in and I need small books that will fit in my handbag ….

But it’s easy to go too far, to have a book too many. And I think I’m on the edge of that, and so I’m going to take stock.

Nine books …

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

I struggled with Trollope for a long time, but a couple of months ago I picked this one up and I began to finally understand why so many love him. But I put it to one side to finish a library book that someone else had reserved and didn’t pick it up again. I really must!

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I very much like the look of The Innocents by Francesca Segal, but I thought I would reread the book that inspired it before I picked it up. It’s a long time since I read The age of Innocence, and I am pleased to report that I still love it and that it is a fascinating book to study even when you are familiar with the story, the characters, the milieu.

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail

I’d had a difficult day and my Virago and Persephone bookcases were calling me loudly. There is no better therapy. I’d read that this was lovely and it is, so I’m reading it slowly.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark

I’ve been reading this one on and off for years, going back and forth, back and forth. Not because I’ve forgotten anything important, but because I love the journey and I love the details …

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul

This is my handbag book of the moment. It’s a wonderful, distinctive piece of crime writing, and I plan to finish it in my lunch break tomorrow.

The Harbour by Francesca Brill

This arrived in the post yesterday, and it was one of those books that just made me start reading straight away. It’s a big, dramatic story of love and history, set in Hong Kong during World War II, and I have a feeling I’m going to whistle through – it’s compulsive reading!

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone

This is a lovely childhood memoir, packed full of stories and drawings. It’s one of those books I could happily live in, but I must finish and give it back to the library.

The Seamstress by Maria Duenas

I am loving this: a big romantic epic set against the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. It got buried under knitting and newspaper on the coffee table for a while but I’ve pulled it out again because I do want to press on.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

(not pictured)

I picked this up for last month’s Elizabeth Taylor Centenary Readalong, and I could see straight away that it was a great book, but I just didn’t have the concentration to do it justice. I’m going to finish it before I move on to this month’s book, The Sleeping Beauty, to keep my chronology straight …

And I think that’s it. All good books, all books I want to finish, and I must finish at least two of them before I pick up anything new.

But nine works in progress is silly, and I haven’t even counted books for long term readalongs!

How many books do you read at a time? How do you keep track?

Please tell!

A Classics Challenge

It’s called a challenge, but it doesn’t feel like a challenge.

It feels like a very natural, and sociable, way to read some of the books I really want to read but never quite get to.

Let me explain.

A Classics Challenge is hosted by Katherine at November’s Autumn – you may also know her as Katherine of Gaskell Blog.

The basic premise is simple:

“Read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012. Only three of the seven may be re-reads.”

But what makes this interesting is what comes next:

“I’ve organized this challenge to work a little like a blog hop. I hope this will make it more interactive and enjoyable for everyone.

Instead of writing a review as you finish each book (of course, you can do that too), visit November’s Autumn on the 4th of each month from January 2012 – December 2012.

You will find a prompt, it will be general enough that no matter which Classic you’re reading or how far into it, you will be able to answer. There will be a form for everyone to link to their post. I encourage everyone to read what other participants have posted.”

So I’ve been through shelves and lists, and now I’ve narrowed down a long list of titles that I want to read or re-read to just seven books:

The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (1925)

I must confess that I love the film, but I have never read this, or indeed any Maugham. Time to put that right.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (1866)

My mother loves Mrs Gaskell, but she lacks the short-term memory needed for keeping track of novels these days. But she loves watching television adaptations of classic novels, so my plan is to read the book and watch the mini-series with my mother. We did the same thing with North and South earlier this year, and it worked beautifully.

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens (1841)

I began reading The Old Curiosity Shop last year, but though I was enjoying it life and other books distracted me. It’s time to go back to the beginning and see it through to the end.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1922)

I remember seeing the film at school when I was about fourteen. It was an end-of-term post-exam treat! I loved it, and I went straight to the library to find the book. I loved that too, and now it’s time for a re-read.

A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (1790)

I picked this up a little while ago and the mixture of gotic plot and rich description looked wonderful. But I had commited to reading another gothic novel for the Classics Circuit, so I had to put this one aside.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1855)

The first time I tried Trollope we didn’t get on, but I knew that it was just the wrong book at the wrong time. several people have suggested that The Warden is the best book to start with, and so that’s where I am going to start again.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1848)

My mother has been telling me that I should read Vanity Fair, that it was a wonderful book, for years. And she’s generally right about these things.

And now I just have to work out what to read first …