I have now read all six books of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser Series. I thought that the books ranged from very good to outstanding and that all were worth reading. My favorite of the series was Can You Forgive Her?
Though not the focus of all the novels, the Palliser Books are more or less centered upon Plantagenet Palliser. There is so much to be said about his character. As I have written in my other posts on these books, the Duke is outwardly stiff and seemingly cold, yet he displays inner depth, warm emotions and integrity that show up at unexpected moments. His relationship with his wife, Lady Glencora, is complex and fascinating to read about. Early in the series, at a low point in their relationship, Glencora observed,
“We were told to marry each other and did it. When could he have learned to love me? … he requires no loving, either to take it or to give it. I wish it were so with me."
Readers should not be fooled by the above quotation. Much of the remainder of the series involves the Duke showing that the above is not true. He did come to love his wife and yearn for reciprocal affection, all the while remaining outwardly stoic and very controlled, almost ridiculously so.
There are some themes that run through most of The Palliser books. There is a lot of political philosophy in these novels. Politics is often corrupt, and politicians are often self-serving. However, a minority of honest and dedicated public servants keeps a nation strong and on an ethical course. These honest public servants spring up among both conservatives and liberals, but tend to be moderates. Phineas Finn is a good example of this noble public servant. He is a liberal who nonetheless rejects the more radical legislation. He is also honest and is willing to buck his party for what he thinks is right.
Themes of marriage and romantic relationships are displayed throughout the series. The conflict between wealth, class and true love is everywhere. Sometimes, motivated by class and money issues, relatives successfully destroy relationships between mismatched couples, but sometimes the couples hold out. In typical Trollopean complexity, sometimes the relatives are right and one half of the couple is of questionable character. This was likely the case with Lady Glencora’s first engagement with Burgo Fitzgerald, as well as when relatives unsuccessfully tried to stop the marriage between Emily Wharton and Ferdinand Lopez. Other times, the relatives are wrong, as was the case with several couples in The Duke’s Children.
As I have written before, in some ways The Chronicles of Barsetshire and The Palliser books are one big series. There are crossover characters. In fact, The Palliser Series’ central figure, Plantagenet Palliser, was first introduced in The Chronicles of Barsetshire. With that, the two series have different focuses. Where The Chronicles of Barsetshire centered on religious figures and middle society, The Palliser Series centers on politicians and is more upper class centric.
The Chronicles of Barsetshire was written before The Palliser Series and seems less cynical and world weary. There are villains and people who act immorally in the earlier series, but they seem less vicious and inhumane. For instance, Ferdinand Lopez, a classic narcissistic abuser, is highlighted in book five of Palliser, The Prime Minister. There is nothing funny about him. In contrast, the maleficent characters in The Chronicles of Barsetshire, such as Mrs. Proudie, are often portrayed comically and are given some humanity. Links to my commentary on all of the books of both series can be found below.
In a perfect world, I would recommend reading all of the books of both series in order. However, Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn and The Eustace Diamonds can be read as standalones.
In the end, I liked this series a little less than The Chronicles of Barsetshire. The earlier series, for the reasons mentioned above, seemed to be little warmer. Some of the politics in The Palliser Series also became a little tedious, especially in the books that focused on Phineas Finn. However, I am quibbling. The Palliser Books are filled with Trollope’s keen insights on people and relationships. They exude subtlety and nuance. They are often funny and always entertaining. The political philosophy here is also worth pondering. This is a fine series of books that I am glad to have read.
My commentary on Can You Forgive Her? is here.
My commentary on Phineas Finn is here.
My commentary on The Eustace Diamonds is here.
My commentary on The Eustace Diamonds and Anti- Semitism is here.
My commentary on Phineas Redux is here.
My commentary on The Prime Minister is here
My commentary on The Duke’s Children is here.
My commentary on The Warden is here.
My commentary on Barchester Towers is here.
My commentary on Doctor Thorne is here.
My commentary on The Small House at Allington is here.
My commentary on the Last Chronicle of Barset is here.
My commentary on the relationship of Lily Dale and Johnny Eames in The Chronicles of Barsetshire series is here.
My general commentary on The Chronicles of Barsetshire is here.
My commentary on Trollope’s unusual Point of View is here.