Sunday, May 10, 2015
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
The Eustace Diamonds is the third novel in Anthony Trollope's Pallisers series. This is the 19th novel by Trollope that I've read so far, and it's one of my favorites. Basically, much of the plot revolves around Lady Elizabeth Eustace and her diamonds -- and whether they actually belong to her. Lady Elizabeth Eustace, nee Greystock, is a young, beautiful woman of good family, but not much fortune. She marries well, to Lord Florian Eustace, who has a fortune, a title, and good family, but unfortunately, poor health. Lizzie knows all this and uses it to her advantage; poor Florian doesn't realize he's married a sly mercenary until it's too late. He dies young with a pregnant widow, and relatives who are very unhappy with this interloper who is permanently attached to the family.
The diamonds in question are a necklace worth about 10,000 pounds, about $750,000 in today's money. Lizzie claims that her husband gave them to her before he died, as a gift, but Eustace lawyers disagree, saying they're part of the estate, and must be passed down to his son and heir. (Lizzie has also received a life interest in an estate in Scotland and an annual income of 4000 pounds, so she's not hurting). She decides she needs a man to help her fight the nasty lawyers, and waffles between her cousin, Frank Greystock, a poor lawyer and MP; and Lord Fawn, a financially struggling aristocrat (and a former suitor of Violet Effingham from Phineas Finn, the previous Palliser novel). Lord Fawn pops the question first, but quickly tries to back out of the engagement when he hears about Lizzie's legal troubles. Lizzie then makes a play for Frank, but he's already engaged to Lizzie's childhood pal, Lucy Morris -- who also happens to live with Lord Fawn's mother, as governess to his youngest sisters. Following all this so far?
Lizzie then tries to twist Frank around her little finger and get him to fight all her battles, both against the lawyers and Lord Fawn. She also wants to play the great lady and host guests at her Scottish castle and go fox hunting, so we have the requisite Trollope scenes where they're all riding to the hounds. Trollope makes it all sound very exciting, except of course for the poor fox. There are also love triangles, some appearances by Palliser regulars Lady Glencora and the Duke of Omnium.
Compared to Phineas Finn, there's much less politics and much more domestic intrigue. About halfway through this book I thought it was going to be standard Trollope, but then there was a major plot twist I wasn't expecting at all -- and then it twisted around again. And then again! This book really had me on my toes, and I finished the second half of the book in just a few days. Lizzie Eustace is so sly and manipulative, I wanted to jump into the book and throttle her -- she definitely reminded me of Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair. The parts of this book with the legal wrangling over the ownership of the diamonds also reminded me a bit of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce from Charles Dickens' masterpiece, Bleak House.
This is a fairly long Trollope, but I really think it's one of his best. It's the third book in the Pallisers series, but Lady Glencora and the other characters from the previous two books are really quite minor to the plot, so I think one could easily start reading the series with this book. I'm really glad I jumped right into this book after finishing the second book in the series, and I'd really love to finish the last three volumes of the series this year. Plus, this is one of the books from my Classics Club, so I'm happy to cross it off my list.