Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope is the fourth novel in the Palliser Series. The book can be properly called a direct sequel to Trollope’s Phineas Finn. It can be read separately from the other Palliser books, but I would only recommend doing so after reading Phineas Finn, as the plot almost presupposes that the reader is already acquainted with the earlier book’s major characters and events.
The last we heard about Phineas was that he had left English politics, married and settled down in Dublin. As this story begins, Phineas’s wife has died and he is being urged to reenter politics by his friends and former colleagues. Phineas returns the world of politics and begins to associate with his old friends and acquaintances. Lady Laura, one of the most interesting characters from Phineas Finn, is back and plays a major role in this story. Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser (Planty Pall) from earlier books play a major part in this novel. Lizzy Eustace, the colorful main character from The Eustace Diamonds also plays a minor role here.
As the plot progresses, multiple threads involving multiple characters slowly unfold. The primary plot concerns itself with the false accusation and trial of Phineas for the murder of a political rival. The narrative also involves Lady Laura, whose husband dies mid - plot, and Madame Max Goesler, both vying for Phineas’s affections. The fact that there is a love triangle involving two women and man seems fairly unusual for Trollope and for Victorian literature in general. Because both women, while flawed, are essential noble and decent, the book ends on a very bittersweet note as one inevitably has her heart broken.
Like Phineas Finn, this novel is also packed with political philosophy. There are pages and pages of politics and political machinations contained in this work. Elections, government meetings, Parliamentary debates, etc. are all described in great detail. Some readers, even those interested in politics, such as myself, may become a little bored with this.
The political and legal philosophy within this book and its predecessors is complex and multifaceted. There are many subthemes explored. Trollope’s general view of both politics and the law is worth noting. He paints the picture of a world filled with corruption, unfairness and nonsensicalness. The political and legal professions are skewered.
At one point Phineas’s attorney is talking about how he plans to get Phineas acquitted. Even though the young man is truly innocent, it is not facts that are going to save him. Instead we are told,
“Juries are always unwilling to hang…. They are peculiarly averse to hanging a gentleman, and will hardly be induced to hang a member of Parliament. Then Mr. Finn is very good-looking, and has been popular”
Later, Phineas describes how he has become disenchanted with the English Parliament,
“I doubt whether patriotism can stand the wear and tear and temptation of the front benches in the House of Commons. Men are flying at each other's throats, thrusting and parrying, making false accusations and defences equally false, lying and slandering,— sometimes picking and stealing,— till they themselves become unaware of the magnificence of their own position, and forget that they are expected to be great. Little tricks of sword-play engage all their skill. And the consequence is that there is no reverence now for any man in the House”
I find it interesting that the above quotation can be applied to so many twenty-first century democracies. This novel is full of examples of the above, all relating to politics and the legal profession.
However, Trollope is not a hopeless cynic. What shines through within both systems is the work of a few good individuals who are ethical, selfless and competent and who keep the world on the right track. Phineas, who is honest, principled and hard working is one of those individuals.
Plantagenet Palliser, who is present in all of the books in this series, is another example. Though stiff, outwardly repressed and overly serious, at various points in the series, he shows that when it comes down to it, he is a person of decency and substance. In Can You Forgive Her? he showed humanity, love and made a great sacrifice for his wife when everyone least expected it. In this book, he is shown to be honest, hard working, competent and willing to sacrifice for his country. When his uncle dies, he is to be elevated and will become the Duke of Omnium. However, this means that he must give up his vital, technocratic position as Chancellor of the Exchequer, where he believes he is doing great service to his country,
"To him his uncle's death would be a great blow, as in his eyes to be Chancellor of the Exchequer was much more than to be Duke of Omnium, Planty Pall had come to the throne, and half a county was ready to worship him. But he did not know how to endure worship, and the half county declared that he was stern and proud, and more haughty even than his uncle. At every "Grace" that was flung at him he winced and was miserable, and declared to himself that he should never become accustomed to his new life. So he sat all alone, and meditated how he might best reconcile the forty-eight farthings which go to a shilling with that thorough-going useful decimal, fifty." [The numerical references are an allusion a major financial project that he was spearheading]
Later, Mr. Chaffanbrass, another one of Phineas’s lawyers, expresses his dedication to the legal profession and his belief that everyone deserves an attorney, regardless of guilt or innocence. Furthermore, he begins to show real admiration for Phineas’s integrity. He comments,
"I never did,— and I never will,— express an opinion of my own as to the guilt or innocence of a client till after the trial is over. But I have sometimes felt as though I would give the blood out of my veins to save a man. I never felt in that way more strongly than I do now.”
By showing decent and honest people working for the betterment of their country, society and individuals in a world of corruption, Trollope seems to be showing how he views the world. He is always a realistic writer. Here he realistically shows both the good and the bad.
All of this fits in with Phineas’s emotional state. After he is acquitted of murder, he falls into despondency and depression. The hypocrisy and falseness inherent in so many of his fellow politicians and civil servants has dragged him down. However, by the end of the book, he tries to do what is right and stand on principle.
The above points are only a small part of makes this book worthwhile. Like most Trollope novels, there is a lot going on in this book. It is a fascinating exploration of multiple complex characters and their interactions. It is full of both big and little insights about life. It is an entertaining story. I recommend that folks who have at least read Phineas Finn to read this book. It is a fine entry in the Palliser Series.