I'm really trying to read only books from my own shelves, and I know in my head it would be so much faster if I read all the short books so that the unread number would be smaller. But sometimes, I just get a craving for a big fat Victorian triple-decker that will just totally absorb me. And that's when it's time for some Trollope.
I originally picked Phineas Redux because the audio was available on audio download free from my library -- it's a three-week checkout, but seriously, in a city of a million people, who else besides me would want to read it? I wanted a good classic on audio for dog walking, and I figured I could stretch it out for awhile. Well, I got completely hooked on the story and zoomed through it in just a couple of weeks. I was so pleasantly surprised, because this book is just brilliant. I knew the Pallisers were supposed to be as great as the Barchester Chronicles, but of the four books I've read in the series, this one is by far my favorite. It has satire, romance, politics, intrigue, and lots of my favorite characters from previous novels in the series.
I should back up a little. Phineas Finn, the eponymous Irish politician from the second Palliser novel, is back in London after several years out of public life. At the end of Phineas Finn, he left Parliament, went back to Ireland, and married his childhood sweetheart Mary. She tragically died shortly after their marriage, leaving him childless, and he is approached by some MPs to see if he wouldn't consider attempting to try for a seat in a borough which could be won without much trouble or financial output. Phineas has a little money and no family left, so he has nothing to lose.
Of course, he's thrown back into society with three of his old paramours -- Lady Viola, now happily married to Lord Chiltern; her sister-in-law, Lady Laura, who is separated from her husband, the cantankerous George Kennedy; and Madame Max Goesler, the rich widow who proposed to Phineas and offered to support his political aspirations. (Madame Goesler very nearly became a Duchess when the elderly Duke of Omnium proposed to her, but she turned him down, since she could very well have been the mother to the next Duke, thereby ousting the heir apparent, Plantagenet Palliser. She sensitively turned him down rather then incur the wrath of of her friend Lady Glencora, Palliser's wife). Following all this so far? This is just the setup!
At first, I thought this was a pretty standard Trollope. There are love triangles, and proposals, and broken engagements, plus the aforementioned political machinations. (There's also the reappearance of the devious Lady Eustace from The Eustace Diamonds, who has a small but pivotal role. However, just about halfway through, there's a pretty significant plot twist, and what I thought was a minor quarrel turns into a murder, and much of the book is taken up with the trial and its aftermath. Although I suspected it would all turn out alright in the end, it was still riveting.
One thing I really love about Trollope is how great his female characters are -- unlike Dickens, who tends to write females as either brainless ingenues or comic older women. In this book alone, there are no less than six strong females with fully realized characterization. Of course, most of them had already been introduced in the previous books, but the female characters are the heart and soul of his books. Lady Glencora, Madame Goesler, and even the detestable Lizzie Eustace are all worth reading about. I just love that about Trollope -- the women get just as much time in the books as the men, or nearly so. (I wish some graduate student would do a study about this!)
My only quibble with the novel is that I'm really starting to see an anti-Semitic bias in Trollope that makes me uncomfortable. There's a character who is painted as an absolute villain who is Jewish, and there are some pretty derogatory remarks made about him. Also, one character is terribly jealous of Madame Max Goesler, who is a foreigner, and there are a couple of nasty jabs from her rival as well. I remember a minor Jewish character from Rachel Ray that had some anti-Semitic remarks about him, but at the time I read it, I was unsure if Trollope was satirizing anti-Semites or was one himself. I'm starting to think it was Trollope. I understand this is just a reflection of the times, but still, it's disappointing because I love Trollope's books so much. Even Charles Dickens responded to public pressure about Fagin and wrote a much more sympathetic character in Our Mutual Friend.
I also wish I had read it a little closer to Phineas Finn -- it had been almost a year, and some of the details from the first book were a little fuzzy. I suppose chronologically it comes after The Eustace Diamonds, but I certainly don't want to wait an entire year to read the final two books in the series!
I'm counting this as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I'm also thinking about reading more Trollope for the other Back to the Classics categories -- I do have some unread volumes of his short stories, and I also have a couple more Trollopes that might qualify for the Classic With a Place in the Title category.
Has anyone else read the Palliser novels? Which are your favorites? How's everyone else doing with the Back to the Classics Challenge?