Sunday, July 23, 2017

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope


This post contains spoilers.


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. 


27 comments:

Fred said...

Brian,

Excellent post.

And while this is considered part of the Palliser set, it can be read alone and _Phineas Finn_ should be read first.

Mudpuddle said...

i've never read any of the Palliser novels... you make them seem very attractive.... dare i dabble? or plunge right in? time will tell... excellent summation; tx....

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Fred.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Mudpuddle. I would recommend that one start at the beginning with Can You Forgive Her? Another alternative would be to start at The Eustace Diamonds. It works as a standalone and is excellent. It is a little different fro Trollope however.

James said...

A fitting contribution to the Palliser series. I'm overdue for a dose of Trollope (dare I say dollop?).

Mudpuddle said...

tx James(i can't resist): dare i dabble in a dollop of Trollope? hahaha i'm so bad....

Brian Joseph said...

Hi and Mudpuddle James - Everyone can use a dollop of Trollope!

Suko said...

Excellent commentary! I will keep this book and series in mind. I have yet to try a dollop of Trollope. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. I think that you would like Trollope.

R.T. said...

Fascinating! I confess to skimming through your posting rather than reading every word -- an insurance policy against stumbling upon spoilers -- and I am nearly persuaded that I have been missing out by not reading Trollope; moreover, I appreciate advice from you and others about where to begin any Trollope reading excursion. Perhaps I should be like Dorothy and the yellow-brick road: begin at the beginning.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Really great review, Brian, with lots to consider. I have not read this book and like R.T. I skimmed portions but read your comments.

What you said about the disrespectful way people in government can act reminded me of a book I have just read about the Civil War. You think things got vicious in this last election you should read about then. In 1860, delegates were bringing knives and guns into Parliment and sometimes using them!

And Mudpuddle, one thing: Bwu ha ha ha ha ha! That was really cute: a delightfully delicious dabble and a dollop of Trollope would be a good dose. Not as good but I tried. I am partial to alliteration.

The Reader's Tales said...

Your excellent review makes it look SO attractive. You really are gifted, Brian... I will have to read Trollope novels, sounds fascinating!!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks R.T. - If you gave Trollope a try I would love to know what you thought.

thecuecard said...

My, it seems Trollope had quite a fascination with the politics of his day, and elections & all. I could only imagine how he would skewer today's political world, especially what's going on the U.S. Phineas would really be depressed then. I like how Trollope seems to have a pulse on his world & its inner workings. Nice review.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon. Indeed there has been such nastiness in politics. No doubt that you are aware of the assaults on the House Floor. There was a time when things were indeed worse then they are now.

I have run out of ways to alliterate here :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much The Reader's Tales. If you gave Trollope a try I would love to know what you thought.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Susan.

This book and Phineas Finn are real studies in political science. Trollope really had an understanding of politics.

Phineas would indeed be depressed today.

baili said...

Politics is not my favourite topic through but I enjoy indulgence in complex characters and well woven story.
You reviews have compelling power to read such complicated yet interesting topics Brain!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much Baili.

I tend to love politics. That has helped keep me interested in these books.

HKatz said...

"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."

This is especially inspiring. Hopeful too. I needed to read that :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - Despite my criticism of certain elements of the system and at certain individuals, I am also relatively optimistic about the political system in general and many of our institutions.

JaneGS said...

I am so looking forward to diving into this series--I love Trollope's insights, and you're right, he's not a cynic, but seems able to articulate the truth of the world around him.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - Can You Forgive Her? is the first book in the series and it is a great book.

Kathy's Corner said...

Another excellent review Brian. I'm thinking you might like Glittering Images by Susan Howatch the first in her seies that takes place in an English Village and deals with the Church of England. I have never read Trollope which I must do but from the way you have described his Barchester series, Susan Howatch's series which begins with Glittering Images and which I loved seems similar except set in late 20th century.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. Susan Howatch sounds good. I will take a closer look at her books.

Maria Behar said...

OUTSTANDING commentary as usual, Brian!

You have certainly read most of Trollope's novels, and have prompted me to at least get a taste of this author. Therefore, next time I visit my local B&N, I will be sure to buy a Trollope novel. They have an entire table of B&N classics, in paperback, and they're each only $5.00. You can't beat that! I recently bought "The Scarlet Pimpernel", by Baroness D'Orczy. My next purchase will be "Barchester Towers", which I recall having seen there. (Actually, you CAN beat that price. I just went to the B&N online site, and they have "Barchester Towers" for $4.49, with FREE shipping! I'm going for it!!)

I know I've heard of "Phineas Finn" at some point in my life. However, I had not heard of "Phineas Redux" until now. As you have mentioned, the fact that this novel contains such things as Parliamentary debates and meetings might turn out to be rather boring. On the other hand, maybe not. I would have to get into this world, and see for myself.

Phineas sure does sound like an interesting, as well as exemplary, character. He certainly possesses several laudable qualities, and, in view of this, it's quite surprising that he would ever be accused of murder. I would be interested to find out how this came about!

I like the fact that this novel deals with political philosophy, too. That, I'm sure, would certainly intereste me!

It sounds like this is another highly complex slice of 19th-century British life, viewed through the eyes of a literary master! I will definitely add this book to my Goodreads shelves, along with other Trollope novels!

Thanks for your insightful thoughts!! <3 :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria.

Those are great prices for the books.

I think that you would like Barchester Towers, it is my favorite Trollope book. Though I thought that the first book in the Series, The Warden, was not quite as good, I think that you would like its main chariter, Septimus Harding.

Phineas is a well crafted character. He is likable but flawed.

Evan I got a little bored with the politics in this one :)