The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope is the sixth and the last of The Palliser books. When this novel was originally published, more than 200 pages were removed from the original version, probably at the demand of the publisher. In 2015, scholars released the restored, unabridged version. This unabridged version is the one that I read.
The story centers on Plantagenet Palliser, who is the Duke of Omnium, and his three children. His sons are Lord Silverbridge and Lord Gerald, and his daughter is Lady Mary.
The story opens shortly after the death of Lady Glencora, the Duke’s wife and mother of the children. The Duke’s sons and his daughter are acting in ways that displease the straitlaced Duke. Both of his sons get thrown out of college for misbehavior, and both incur large gambling debts. Both Silverbridge and Mary enter into engagements with people that the Duke disapproves of. Silverbridge wants to marry Isabel Boncassen. This is problematic as she is an American. Mary becomes engaged to a man named Frank Tregear. He is a commoner whose family is no longer wealthy. This leads the Duke to forbid the marriage.
Some of the old characters from previous books in the series are back, particularly Phineas Finn and his wife, formally Madame Max Goesler. However, I think that the end of the series would have been more satisfying had more characters returned.
Like most Trollope novels, there is a lot going on between the covers of this work. The restored version that I read is just short of 800 dense pages in length. I could devote entire posts to various characters and relationships.
I want to write few words about the Duke’s attempt to break up the relationship between Mary and Tregear. There are all sorts of ghosts and emotional time bombs tied to this aspect of the narrative. The fact that this book is part of a fairly long series of novels adds to the effect of the past coming back. It is revealed in the text that prior to her death, Last Glencora supported the relationship between the two young people, even though it was clear that the Duke would not approve. There are parallels to Lady Glencora’s own past here. In Can You Forgive Her? it was revealed that Lady Glencora’s first engagement with Burgo Fitzgerald was broken up by relatives who found Burgo’s social status and character unacceptable. The marriage between Lady Glencora and the Duke was subsequently arranged. It turned out that Palliser quickly fell in love with Lady Glencora, and she came to return much of his affection and respect. However, the scars remained.
It is revealed that Lady Glencora wanted to avoid the same outcome for her daughter. The Duke is simultaneously haunted by the past, though he believes that things were done for the best. He knows that his wife loved Burgo first. There is one important difference between the situations; Burgo was shown of very questionable character, and Tregear is decent and responsible. Again and again, it is said as well as implied that if Mary were forced to give up Tregear, she would spend all of her future days depressed and despondent. These two romances and ensuing conflicts bookend the entire Palliser Series neatly. They pack an emotional weight and show how Trollope is capable of presenting life’s complexities. Relatives interfering with romances can prevent catastrophe as they did with Lady Glencora. However, such interference can also be overbearing and oppressive and has the potential to ruin lives as we see with Mary.
The Duke is not unaware of the contradictions. At one point he contemplates the situation,
"The mutual assent which leads to marriage should no doubt be spontaneous. Who does not feel that? Young love should speak from its first doubtful unconscious spark,— a spark which any breath of air may quench or cherish,— till it becomes a flame which nothing can satisfy but the union of the two lovers. No one should be told to love, or bidden to marry, this man or that woman. The theory of this is plain to us all, and till we have sons or daughters whom we feel imperatively obliged to control, the theory is unassailable. But the duty is so imperative! The Duke had taught himself to believe that as his wife would have been thrown away on the world had she been allowed to marry Burgo Fitzgerald, so would his daughter be thrown away were she allowed to marry Mr. Tregear. Therefore the theory of spontaneous love must in this case be set aside. Therefore the spark,— would that it had been no more!— must be quenched. Therefore there could be no union of two lovers”
There is more going on in this book. The resistance to Isabel and Silverbridge’s marriage is also very interesting as Trollope uses it as a vehicle to analyze the British aristocracy. Another character, Lady Mabel Grex, is a woman who rejects the man that she loves for a chance of marrying into wealth. Her ties to the book’s other characters and themes are fascinating.
This is a very good book. With that I think that the end of this fine series could have been a little stronger had more of the characters from previous books been introduced and their stories wrapped up in neater ways. The last book in Trollope’s The Barchester Chronicles, The Last Chronicle of Barset, did that in a much more effective way.
Despite a few shortcomings, this is a worthy wrap up to the series. Since the events in this novel are related to past entries, I would only recommend reading the earlier books first. Like most of the author’s books, this novel is full of Trollope’s insights into human nature and his exploration of characters. In fact, this is a must read for anyone who has made it this far into the series. So ends the Palliser Series.
Because of your fine posting and critique, I have purchased a Kindle copy of the Palliser novels, and I’m looking forward to my initiation into Trollope’s world. Thanks. Tim
A Major Accomplishment! Following along in your posts has been enlightening and entertaining... I'm now seriously contemplating undertaking your very long journey; sometime this year, maybe... tx for including the commenters, Brian...
like his other works this one also sounds great work of art which reveals complications of human nature and problems of lone father of high status who has to raise his and protect his children while keeping his own position in mind
very interesting story ,well woven and beautifully narrated by you Brain!
Thanks Tim. I think that you will like this series. I look forward to reading what you think of it.
Thanks Muddpuddle. I would love to know what you thought of these books.
Thanks Baili. You described the essence of the book on your comment! In my opinion, Trollope really understood human nature.
800 pages, wow quite an end to the saga. I'd be interested to hear what section was removed .... just superfluous pages or something that offended the publisher? All these marriage proposals in the final book. Hmm. The Duke's sons don't sound too great if they wracked up gambling debts, eh? Good job in finishing the whole series. Wow.
Hi Susan - According to the forward in the book, scholars believe that since the previous book in The Palliser series failed to sell as well as expected, editors demanded that Trollope cut the size of this book. He apparently removed sentences in every chapter.
The Duke's sons, while they have thier positive aspects, are depicted as rich kids who have become spoiled.
I am jealous that you have read all these Trollope novels. You are the one that made me aware of Trollope in the first place. I have a lot of them but need to get back into them. Sigh..so many books...I hope I live long enough to read them all.
Hi Sharon - Plus these are generally very long books. On the bright side I think the you will like them and you get to experience them for the first time.
Now I have one more book to add to my wishlist! Excellent commentary (as usual). Trollope's insights into human nature, and his work in general, sound exceptional.
Hi Brian, You have done a wonderful job in this review and all the otbers conveying why we are missing out if we have not read Anthony Trollope. This year I am going to start the Chronicles of Barchester Series and I am excited to do so! The Duke's Children sounds very interesting and you are right that the Duke's objection to his daughter's choice for a husband is based on Lady Glencora's past and could it be the Duke is still jealous of Lady Glencora's first love? Lady Glencora came to love the Duke in time but it sounds like the Duke always knew he was the second choice. And so he looks at his daughter's young man and the Duke feels rejected all over again.
Hi Suko - I think that Trollope's understanding of human nature really is exceptional. I probably would not start reading Trollope' with this book as it is entry number six of the series.
Thanks Kathy - Though you have not read this book I think that you have correctly surmised what is going on here. The Duke is indeeded haunted by the events that took place around the time of his marriage. I think that you will like The Chronicles of Barsetshire.
Enjoyed this review Brian. I was going to ask what thecuecard asked re the 200 pages cut. Given, as I understand from what you say, that he cut out sentences rather than whole sections or storylines, did you feel, as you were reading that it needed a good edit? (Unfortunately though, I may not see your answer because I won't receive notification that you've replied).
Did I say before that I remember when The Pallisers was must-Sunday-Night viewing for many of us back in the 1970s.
Thanks Whispering Gums. I tend to not mind long winded prose so I may be the wrong person to ask if this should have been edited or not. It would be interesting to compare a few chapters between the edited and non edited version.
I am thinking of changing to s third party commenting system. I want to be careful as I have heard that folks have had issues when transitioning over.
Enjoyed your fine review. This is another Trollope novel that I have yet to read. Too bad it did not end the series as well as was done in The Last Chronicle of Barset.
Thanks James. I got the sense that he may have written more books in the series after this but that he did not. I tried to research this a bit but could not find anything.
Good for you on finishing and enjoying the Trollope series. "it is said as well as implied that if Mary were forced to give up Tregear, she would spend all of her future days depressed and despondent"...how depressing!
Great post as always, I am sure there is so much to discuss within these books.
Enjoy your Sunday :)
Every time I read one of your Trollope reviews I feel like I should read one of his books. Where is the best place to start?
Hi Naida - Trollope does not always write happy endings, but in this case all ends OK for Mary.
Hi Rachel - I will be addressing that issue in detail in my wrap up post for The Palliser Books. But Can You Forgive Her is a good choice. It is the first of The Palliser Books and in my opinion the best. The Warden, which is the first of The Chronicles of Barsetshire is also a good choice to start. It is also relatively short.
EXCELLENT commentary as always, Brian!
I will write a couple of things now, and return later, as I'm a bit pressed for time.
It's interesting that the theme of arranged marriages, and possible ones that ended up being thwarted, seems to dominate much of 19th-century literary fiction. In some cases, as in that of Lady Glencora, the arranged marriage turned out to be a good one. But, as Trollope points out in this novel, that wasn't always the case. I'm sure that, in the real world of the time, lots of young lives were permanently damaged as a result of young people being forced to give up someone they truly loved to marry someone their family thought "more suitable", merely for the shallow reason of how wealthy they were.
That's it for now, but I'll be back! (Just like Arnold, lol.)
Have a GREAT day!! <3 :)
Thanks Maria. I cannot imagine being forced out of a relationship by others. It seems nightmarish. The fact that it is so common in literature does seem to indicate that it was common in real life. Sadly, in some parts of the world, I think that it is still common.
Okay, I'm back! :)
I think it's very interesting that Trollope compares and contrasts Lady Glencora's own thwarted relationship with that of her daughter. For one thing, as you point out, Burgo was of questionable character, whereas Tregear is not.
It's also interesting, as well as a great literary device, for these two romances to "bookend the entire Palliser Series". It seems that Trollope wanted to summarize and encompass all of his major themes in this series by doing this. It also seems that he is urging caution to parents who might want to force their children out of, and into, certain unions. He seems to be saying that, if a prospective partner is of questionable character, then it's perfectly all right to oppose the union, but that, if such a prospective partner is deemed "unworthy" simply because of lack of funds, this is NOT a valid reason for thwarting a possible marriage.
Morality and decency -- along with true love -- are, of course, weightier and more important reasons to consider before attempting to prevent two people from marrying. A "lower" position in the social pecking order, and/or less money, are simply not that important, and, indeed, are very shallow reasons for preventing two people from marrying. Not that it's a good thing to marry someone in abject poverty, either. This would not bode well for the future of the children to come later. But WHO CARES if someone is snubbed by the reigning social group just because they don't own a vast estate, with many tenants, and cannot afford to take lengthy European vacations, accompanied by a retinue of servants? Honest and hardworking people are GREAT marriage material!
I wonder whether this state of affairs still prevails in some parts of England, as well as in certain areas of our own country. Surely it's not that prevalent anymore, I hope!
Happy Friday!! Hope you have a GREAT weekend!! Thanks for all of your highly insightful reviews!!
Hi Maria. I think that you are correct. Trollope liked to show that life is complex, sometimes it is OK to oppose a relationship, sometimes it was not OK.
It seems astounding to me just how much of an impact that class played in lives of wealthy people back then. It was not just about money. Trollope created upper class characters who were broke and lower class characters who had come into wealth. How these dynamics were portrayed in his books are fascinating. I suppose that it is still important to some people now. I would imagine that it is different now though. Reading these books and others that were written around this time, one gets the impression that thoughts and feelings about class had seeped into people's bones. It is everywhere in these books.
Have a great Friday!
I read this for a survey course in college and honestly can't remember a thing about it--your review is excellent, and makes me want to finally get started on the full Palliser series. I like how the past revisits the family in various ways, and the absence of Lady Glencora seems to underscore that.
Hi Jane - I really liked this book. However, I think that one would get a lot less out of it if one had not read the previous books in the series.
The excerpt you share is heart-breaking in some ways. And the Duke sounds like a fascinating, complex character.
Hi Hila - Indeed there is much sadness floating around this series. That is a great quote.
I always enjoy reading your Trollope reviews because I can sense how much you like the author.
That said, it's not likely, I'll be reading this any day soon as I'm pretty sure, the novels should be read chronologically. Reading them all, is such a huge undertaking.
But they sound worthwhile. Too bad it didn't tie up the series as well as it could have.
Hi Caroline- Indeed I really like Trollope. And these series are indeed big undertaking. The only thing is, I thought that the first book in the series, Can You Forgive Her?, was the best. It works very well as a stand-alone.
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