So without working deliberately at it over the years I’ve read a fair bit of Trollope but this is my disordered venture into the Palliser series. First I read ‘Phineas Finn’ and directly afterwards ‘Phineas Redux’. They are big novels, serialized and therefore with dramatic nodes, shifts in the pace, side bars and disquisitions. Trollope is a master of maintaining narrative tension and moving the story around so that the illusion of the absent for the moment characters are always there in the wings being busy and about at any moment to inflict themselves.
It would be silly of me to tell someone who reads a bit that Trollope is mandatory. If you are about to find that out then I will restrain myself from urging him on you like a big friendly dog. Here I will just offer some points about Phineas Finn which may escape the British or American reader. He is an Irishman and a Catholic and therefore an outsider. In the circles in which he moves in he is also a commoner and that counts for a lot. Unlike the other Irishman in the novel, Fitzgibbon, he is not of the landed gentry class even if his family is regarded as sound stock by that Anglo-Irish class. He is an exotic bird, very handsome, affable, witty, charming and with a touch of gallantry which appeals to the members of that element in English society, the Barbarian; huntin’, shootin’, fishin’; and if you get involved in a duel with them they will try to kill you. The other Arnoldian categories of the Hebraic and the Populace are supplied by Robert Kennedy and Bunce his landlord.
I found him at first a bit of a cipher. Where’s the politics, will there be sticking points, will he turn balky over the Irish Land question or disestablishmentarianism? There is envy at his rising to minor office but he shows his capacity for work. However he is unlucky in love or unrealistic about his chances as a poor man and a commoner with aristocratic women. The portrait is limned in over the two novels and life’s tragedies and injustice hew the block closer to the finished man.
Another outsider and exotic is Madame Max, the rich young widow, a Jew by marriage, from somewhere out there where abroad is bloody, Vienna. Excellently drawn as are all the women. Lady Laura and Lady Glencora are political kitchen cabinet types promoting, through the blandishment of dinner parties, their policies.
That’s all I have to say about that. I have no key to the characters of the political drama in the House of Commons. It is a time of great change and reform. Votes for all, the position of the Church established by law, the scurrility of the popular press, libels and injunctions. Good speeches and some comedy to temper the stateliness.