Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

The Eustace Diamonds is the third novel in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser Series. This is a huge book with lots of characters and multiple plot threads. At its center is the impressive literary creation of Lizzie Eustace. Though in some ways similar to other Trollope novels, I found this book to be much more cynical and dark when compared to the author’s other efforts.

Lizzie is a beautiful young woman who marries the wealthy Sir Florian. When her husband dies, a dispute arises over the disposition of the very valuable Eustace Necklace. Sir Florian’s family claims it as a family heirloom and considers it the property of the family.  Lizzie, on the other hand, wants to keep the jewels for herself.

A good part of the narrative concerns itself with Lizzie’s battles against the Eustace family for control of the necklace. It also encompasses Lizzie’s many romantic entanglements. There are multiple additional plot threads that become entwined with Lizzie’s life. One particularly important one is the troubled engagement between Lizzie’s cousin, Frank Greystock, and the poor, unassuming but virtuous Lucy Morris.

Lizzie is not a typical Trollope heroine nor is she a typical Trollope character. Though often presented in a humorous way, Lizzie can be described in modern terminology as a sociopath, a narcissist, a hypocrite, a manipulator and a pathological liar.

Lizzie cheats people out of property, commits fraud, manipulates people around her, tries to seduce multiple men at the same time and is vengeful, to just name a few of her faults. She tells lie after lie after lie. She lies to inflate her own importance.  She lies for personal gain. She lies to make herself seem like a victim.  She lies for revenge. She even admires others when they lie well.

At one point she ponders,

“She liked lies, thinking them to be more beautiful than truth. To lie readily and cleverly, recklessly and yet successfully, was, according to the lessons which she had learned, a necessity in woman and an added grace in man. “

Despite her villainy, Lizzie is interesting and amusing to read about. Her confrontations with other characters range from serious drama to hilarious clashes. She tries to dominate most of the people around he, but she is also attracted to dominant and reckless men. She extolls the qualities of poetry, but her appreciation for it is superficial at best.

Lizzie is an expert manipulator. Though some of the characters see right through her, others are fooled into believing that it is she who is a victim. She flirts and enchants a series of men. She is constantly pursuing Frank Greystock, despite the fact that they are both engaged to other people. One interesting thing about Frank is that he mostly recognizes Lizzie’s flaws, but he cannot help himself as he is still enticed and tempted by her. This is typical of Lizzie’s skills of influence. Throughout the book, he is fighting her pull.

In the below passage Lizzie feigns distress and tears,

“He dried her tears and comforted her, and forgave all the injurious things she had said of him. It is almost impossible for a man,— a man under forty and unmarried, and who is not a philosopher,— to have familiar and affectionate intercourse with a beautiful young woman, and carry it on as he might do with a friend of the other sex. In his very heart Greystock despised this woman; he had told himself over and over again that were there no Lucy in the case he would not marry her; that she was affected, unreal,— and, in fact, a liar in every word and look and motion which came from her with premeditation…he knew her to be heartless and bad. He had told himself a dozen times that it would be well for him that she should be married and taken out of his hands. And yet he loved her after a fashion, and was prone to sit near her, and was fool enough to be flattered by her caresses. When she would lay her hand on his arm, a thrill of pleasure went through him.”

I have read Trollope’s entire Chronicles of Barsetshire, The Fixed Period and the two prior books of this series. Lizzie is different from any other character that Trollope presents in the other books. Almost all of his fictional personas have shades of good and bad. Lizzie is different in that she is irredeemable. Even the incredibly domineering, controlling and hypercritical Mrs. Proudie of The Chronicles Of Barsetshire showed some humanity.

This work is darker in other ways. Most other Trollope books portray some characters doing terrible things. The author has created some very unlikable characters in many of his books. However, those works do not contain as many immoral people with such intense flaws as are in this novel. Lizzie is surrounded by opportunistic and narcissistic people. One example is the engaged couple of Lucinda Roanoke and Sir Griffen Tewett. The pair decides to marry for reasons of personal gain. The moody, sarcastic and cynical Lucinda hates the boorish and nasty Sir Griffen. The two display open contempt for each other as their marriage plans proceed. They fight like cats and dogs and even manage to assault one another prior to their wedding day.

All of this sounds like a dark story. Thematically it is. However these situations, while presented as being ultimately serious, are more often than not presented in a humorous and, at times, hilarious manor. As this cast of bizarrely flawed characters clash and conflict with one another and with the world at large, their antics provide one entertaining anecdote after another. Trollope displayed some cynical wit in the other books that I have read, but never to the degree that it is displayed in this book. This is a very funny work.

Trollope’s books all contain a moral center. Despite the turn to darker themes here, this core is still present. Here, morality is mostly represented by Lucy Morris. She is a virtuous and ethical woman. Her fiancé, Frank Graystock, neglects her terribly. Lucy is hurt by this treatment but continues to act with nobility and grace. Near the end of the book a confrontation between herself and Lizzy reinforces Trollope’s ethical view of the world.

With all of the terrible behavior displayed by so many of the characters, and the unblemished virtue of Lucy, I found the characters in this book to be more simplistic than the usual Trollope fare. Frank Graystock, who is very flawed but who does the right thing in the end, is this novel’s most complex character.

As nasty as some characters in this book are, they are still unique, interesting and often very funny. However, in the end, I thought that this work was less nuanced than other Trollope books that I have read. What it lacks in complexity, it partially makes up in humor however. This is the funniest Trollope novel that I have read so far.

As noted above, this novel is a little different from many other Trollope books. Nevertheless, it is infused with Trollope’s superb writing traits, including his trademark meta-fiction style, interesting and funny characters, great dialogue and many other things to earn recommendation. While it can be read as a stand alone book, I recommend at least reading the first two Palliser books first for full effect (There are crossover characters between these books and The Chronicles of Barsetshire, thus the two series together can be viewed as one giant series. My recommendation, for completeness, is to read both of the series, in order). Ultimately, this is an extremely entertaining novel that I highly recommend for both Trollope fans and general fans of Victorian literature.


My commentary on the first book of the Palliser Series,  Can You Forgive Her? is here.

My commentary on the second book of the Palliser Series, Phineas Finn is here.



37 comments:

JacquiWine said...

Great character analysis as ever, Brian. My only hesitation about reading this sequence of novels is the amount of time it would take, particularly as I know this would have a huge an impact on my ability to get to various other books I already have on the shelves. Nevertheless, I know they would be hugely rewarding, especially if his short stories are anything to go by.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui- Reading these books are indeed a major undertaking in terms of time. Some of these books are well over 600 pages. In a way I feel that I was pulled in with The Warden several years ago. I still have three to go :)

Jennifer said...

I got this far in the Palliser series and just haven't picked it up again. I think I temporarily burned out on huge Victorian novels. However, maybe it is time to pick up Phineas Redux and move ahead.

Lizzie is such an unpleasant character, isn't she? But Trollope manages to pull the reader in so completely even when the character isn't likable

James said...

Great commentary and character analysis as always. I must put this on my list for summer reading when the days are longer.

Fred said...

Brian,

This is my favorite of the Palliser series.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jennifer - As Jacqui and I were saying, these books are big. It is easy to burn out on them.

Though Lizzie is pernicious, she is such fun to read about.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James. It can be read as a standalone. As it is fun, it is a good summer book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Fred. I can see why this one would be your favorite. It is so much fun.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read this one (yet) but I have come across a couple of irredeemable characters in Trollope. It's always a bit of a shock when it happens as he's so generous with human nature IMO.

Brian Joseph said...

Indeed. I think that aside from Lizzie, the closest that Trollope comes to an irredeemable bad person is Mrs. Proudie.

Kate Scott said...

This sounds interesting. I haven't read anything by Anthony Trollope but it seems like many of the people I know who have read Trollope find his work interesting enough (however long it may be) to read a number of his books. I don't think I'll be reading a book by him anytime soon but I would like to explore his work in the future.

Mudpuddle said...

twice i tried this book but got distracted by more interesting ones; i just don't know about T... i read the Barchester series and it was okay, kind of entertaining, but i wasn't crazy about it... T wrote every morning whether he had anything to say or not - granted he was fluent and prolix, but much of his output seems rather hackneyed to me and i can't say much for his character development: they all seem to fit stereotyped roles like categories; T sort of had slots he put his people in, and after a while many of them seemed the same...
this is not to say i categorically dislike his writing; it's just that i don't think as much of him as i do some others: Disraeli, Dickens, Collins for just a few that i think are much better writers...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Mudpuddle - I think that if you thought that The Chronicles of Barsetshire was just OK, you would feel about the same about this series.

I tend to love Trollope's characters. I found that he put people into slots this book, but not so much his other works.

You raise an interesting point about Dickens. Folks compare the two, but I think that they are wildly different writers. I will have more on this when I post commentary on Oliver Twist in a few weeks.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kate - The first book in The Chronicles of Barsetshire, The Warden, is relatively short and thus it might not be bad place to start. I would love to know what you thought if you read one of his books.

baili said...

Unlike his other works writer seems to be more attractive to the negative shade of character ,
i that Frank here is speaking for writer somehow .

Lizzie sounds terrible women with sick mind and takes my empathy easily as i found her pitiable in her confused complicated behaviors ,
i really enjoyed reading this post as great way with expressions always!

Suko said...

Lizzie sounds like a fascinating character who uses her charms to the get what she wants. I haven't read any of Anthony Trollope’s work, but I'll keep this book and this series in mind for the future. Excellent commentary, Brian Joseph! I'm glad you found this to be very humorous, although less nuanced than Trollope's other books.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko - As I mentioned, this book can be read as as a standalone novel.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Baili - Indeed Trollope's negative side comes out here.

Though Lizzie can be fun to read about, in the end you are correct, she is sad and pitiable. Thus she fits into the novel's moral framework.

Stefanie said...

This sounds delicious. If I don't want to read the whole series, can I just read this one?

Fred said...

I would say so. There are references to the Pallisers and some of the other characters in that series, but it really works well as an independent novel.

Gently Mad said...

I read this book a couple of years ago. It was my very first Trollope and I believe you were the one the made me aware of his writings.

I really enjoyed it and your analysis is spot on.

I find these character studies to be so interesting, especially Lizzie. Your description of her is pretty blunt but very true. I've met these people in my life and I don't understand them at all. Their entire thinking is wrapped around using other people and they are very good at it. I'm particularly vulnerable to people like that, I don't know why. I've had a couple of "friends" take advantage of me. At least I eventually wise up and cut ties. I think most people do, which leaves that person without lasting friendships. I wonder if they see that? Or care?

I was particularly surprised at Frank who, as you point out, in many respects is an honorable person. But maybe Trollope (accurately) is showing that no one is above falling, at least a little.

I did think it was interesting that Lizzie couldn't hold his attention; that he ultimately became bored with her. Her charm and looks had no sustaining power, not really with anyone.

Lastly, Trollope shows how desperate people can be because there was not the equal opportunity to work and make a living. You were at the mercy of your class, station and gender. I'm glad I did not live then.

Thanks for a wonderful review Brian! Hope your week is going well.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephanie- This book works fine as a stand alone.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon.

Folks like Lizzie really do a lot of harm. They really seem not to care. I have trouble understanding them too.

These books really do show how people could so easily be trapped in the nineteenth century. In Phineas Phin Lady Laura ended up in a position where her husband would have been in complete control of her had she not fled the country.

I thought that Frank was more of a typical Trollope character, the kind commonly found in his other books.

Have a great week!

Carol said...

Very thoughtful analysis, Brian. I concur with Sharon above that I'm glad I wasn't living at that point of time! Australia is an egalitarian society as a whole - I wonder if the USA is similar in that respect? It's something I noticed when we came here from Scotland where class structure was much more defined. We were working class, my dad being a plumber, and we would never have mixed with anyone from a 'professional' class, such as a doctor. I don't know if things have changed very much as I was a child at the time we emmigrated.

The Reader's Tales said...

Great post as always, Brian!
Every time I read your reviews I want to read the books (not all, most).
To return to the book. I find the character of Lizzie pitiful. A woman who uses her charms to the get what she wants. This kind of person who use lies, flattery and sweet words as weapons to better manipulates others. Unfortunately, very ubiquitous in our society. So, Lizzie is a very modern character.
That said, a story that promises to be captivating. Very much to my taste. Superb writing style, interesting and funny characters, great dialogue, entertaining...Also, I am a fan of Victorian era. Will add this novel to my TBR list which becomes very long.
Have a great weekend ahead :)

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, I always look forward to your reviews. I must read Trollope. I keep telling myself I will start with the Warden but its time to stop procrastinating My guess is Lizzie probably never loved her husband either. Her focus on getting the diamonds away from his relatives gives me that clue. I appreciate Trollope taking a chance with a character like Lizzie, a main character with no redeeming qualities. Sometimes those can be the most fascinating characters in literature if the writer has the skill to pull it off, which Trollope does.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Carol - In my opinion, here in the United States in terms of class and income we are mostly egalitarian. With that there is income segregation and similar issues. I think that we are more like Australia then Scotland.

Reading books by writers like Trollope and Jane Austen makes one really aware just how constrained the class thing was. In Trollope's books one can see how the wall between old money and new money were breaking down in his time. It is common theme of his.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks The Reader's Tales.

I think that you would like this book.

It is unfortunate that there are people like Lizzie around. I do think that she is an extreme and happily, her kind is not all that common.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy.

Indeed, Lizzie married her husband for money.

The fact that the main character in this book is so irredeemable was indeed risky and original.

The Bookworm said...

Great post Brian, I know you enjoy reading Trollope. Lizzie's character sounds interesting and it seems like Frank can't help himself when it comes to her power over him. It's interesting the way some personality types affect others.
Enjoy your weekend!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida.

Trollope's characters are usually interesting. Lizzie is particularly interesting.

Caroline said...

A great post, Brian. Lizzie does sound different but fascinating nonetheless. I know I might not read this, as I'm not so keen on huge books, and thus isn't even the first in the series. I'll continue with the Chronicles for now.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Caroline.

Though this book can be read out of order, personally, I would also finish the Chronicles of Barsetshire first.

thecuecard said...

Now what happens with the necklace? Does Lizzie get her way? She sounds a bit like Scarlett after Rhett but perhaps worse! Quite a dark character for Trollope.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan In my answer let me say that there is a spoiler ahead.


The necklace is stollen and disappears into the Continent. Neither Lizzie nor the family end up with them. This is deliciously ironic.


Maria Behar said...

Superb commentary as usual, Brian!! :) :)

Well, I have to say it: Lizzie sure sounds like a female version of Trump. Lol. That quote in which she muses on the "beauty" of lies is very telling. I'm sure that "our illustrious President" would fully agree with her. Not publicly, of course, haha!

As I read the rest of your very insightful review, I was reminded of a comment I recently made on another of your posts, about the fact that some women always seem to be attracted to men who are bad for them. You mentioned, in your reply, that this type of thing happens to men, as well. And here it is, in the plot of this novel. Graystock feels a strong attraction for Lizzie, and this is despite the fact that he KNOWS her true nature. She doesn't fool him at all. And yet, he continues to feel this illogical attraction, neglecting his devoted, sweet fiancee in the process....

This, to me, is one of the great mysteries of life..... WHY is it that men who are B****RDS, and women who are B****ES, seem to get the BEST romantic partners, while those who are genuinely NICE, do not? But this seems to apply to other situations in life, as well. I have observed dishonest, manipulative co-workers who are sycophants of the boss, advance and get raises, while those who are hardworking, nice, and honest are actually treated with contempt.,,,

Well, I guess the old saying is true -- "Nice guys finish last." :(

To be quite honest, I don't think I would ever be interested in reading this novel, in spite of its funny elements. I don't think I could stomach Lizzie for ONE minute! Women like her just make me SICK. They're the ones who frequently steal husbands.

Thanks for the incisive commentary!! Hope you're having a WONDERFUL day!! <3 :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria.

Lizzie is a lot like Trump! I was thinking that the entire time that I was reading this.

I do think that noice folks often do OK. It does happen that people do end up bring attracted to bad people sometimes, but I think it is the exception.

One thing that is interesting, the bad folks usually do fool the good ones. But as you mention, that ids not the case for Frank.

I can see how you m might not like to read about Lizzie :)

Have a great day!