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Phineas Redux

By Drharrietd @drharrietd

Sesj95i1137m591eThe property of manliness in a man is a great possession, but perhaps there is none that is less understood. That personal bravery is required in the composition of manliness must be conceded, though, of all the ingredients needed, it is the lowest in value. But the first requirement of all must be described by a negative. Manliness is not compatible with affectation. Before the man can be manly, the gifts which make him so must be there, collected by him slowly, unconsciously, as are his bones, his flesh, and his blood. They cannot be put on like a garment for the nonce,—as may a little learning. A man cannot become faithful to his friends, unsuspicious before the world, gentle with women, loving with children, considerate to his inferiors, kindly with servants, tender-hearted with all,—and at the same time be frank, of open speech, with springing eager energies,—simply because he desires it. These things, which are the attributes of manliness, must come of training on a nature not ignoble.

I suppose that Trollope's long diatribe on manliness (which I've edited down quite a bit) just about sums up the character of Phineas Finn, the hero of this novel as well as of the earlier Phineas Finn, which I reviewed a while back. The cover picture on here is dark, and so too is the novel, though it does end happily for most of the characters. 

Briefly, at the end of the previous novel, Phineas has given up his seat in parliament, returned to Ireland and married his childhood sweetheart. Here, a few years later, he is back in London, his wife and baby having died. He manages to get elected again, but for various reasons fails to get a place in the Cabinet. Then, by a piece of astonishingly bad luck, he is accused of the murder of his political enemy and comes within a whisker of being found guilty and heading for the gallows. His innocence is finally proved by the hard work and devotion of his old friend Marie Goestler.

I can see why readers today might find parts of this novel a bit slow going. There's a great deal here about the politics of the 1870s, which, though I quite enjoyed it, is certainly not to everyone's taste. But it wouldn't be Trollope if it didn't also contain a lot about relationships between men and women, and about women's roles in the society of the day, and all this is really fascinating. As I said in my review of the previous novel,  Phineas was very prone to falling in love, though two of his proposals were rejected and he was forced by circumstances to reject one made to him. Here, all those women reappear in his life when he returns to London. One, Violet Effingham, is now happily married to his best friend, another, Marie Goestler, though very close to the dying Duke of Omnium, obviously still cares deeply for him. But it is the third, Lady Laura, whose life really does appear to have been blighted by her decision to marry someone else. 

The evolution of Lady Laura here is actually pretty tragic. She has left her miserable marriage to the wealthy, domineering Edward Kennedy and retired to Dresden with her aging father, an act which has put her beyond the pale of respectable English society. All she thinks about now is Phineas, and her regret at having refused his proposal has become an obsession, one that increases steadily throughout the novel until it finally sours her entire life. Even after Kennedy's death, her future seems bleak. Only 32, she has lost her beauty and become an old woman. It's clear that she will never forgive Phineas for deciding to marry someone else, and will always hate the woman of his choice. I thought all this was quite an interesting development. It was impossible not to sympathise with her decision to leave the insane religious maniac she had married, but it seemed that Trollope was blaming her for being unable to shake off her love for Phineas. Lots of interesting stuff here about the position and rights of women who leave their husbands.

There's also a rather thought-provoking sub-plot about young Adeleide Palliser, cousin of Plantaganet, who is in love with Gerald Maule, who, though handsome and charming, is also lazy and broke. Their prospects of marriage seem doomed when his ghastly old dandy of a father refuses to let them take over the country estate, and Gerald tells her that if they marry they will have to live in BOULOGNE!!!! The very thought of which causes her to break off the engagement. 

But of course at the center of the novel is Phineas himself, who it is impossible (for me at least) not to love. He certainly exemplifies all the qualities of true manliness that Trollope lays out in the quotation at the top here. He withstands his ordeal in prison with great fortitude and throughout the trial, which is a very nail-biting section of the novel, remains strong and upright almost to the last. But once he is freed, he breaks down, is unable to face any of his old friends, resigns his seat in parliament, and seems for a while to be lost to the world. All this is done with great sensitivity by Trollope, for whom my admiration knows no bounds. Luckily, partly through the love of a good woman, everything turns out OK in the end.

I certainly haven't finished with Trollope but he has gone onto the back burner for a while as I am now embarked on The Luminaries. This is the first time I have ever read a Booker prizewinner so soon after it won, and I must say that so far I am enjoying it enormously. It's incredibly long so not sure how soon you will see a review on here, but I think I can safely say it will be a good one. I'm also reading The Two Mrs Abbots, kindly sent to me by Persephone -- a very different kettle of fish but providing some light relief. More on that soon too.


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