Wednesday, 27 July 2011

PHINEAS FINN by Anthony Trollope

The only thing better than a giant Victorian novel is a series of giant Victorian novels, and that's what Trollope has graciously given the world in his Palliser series.

I read the first one earlier this year (here), and decided to start on this one, the second in the series, when my real life was all getting to be too much for me. It's like an 800 page holiday. (Perhaps I should rename this blog A Page A Day Keeps The Psychosis Away?)

Phineas Finn is sent to London by his father, an Irish doctor, to become a lawyer. He's not much of a student, but is handsome and fun, and somehow, in a triumph of social skills and appearance over probability, finds himself standing for parliament. This is crazy, as at that time parliament did not pay a wage, and was thus usually the preserve of the independently wealthy. Phineas decides to take the risk, and is fairly successful, eventually securing a government post that pays a wage. On the way, he falls in and out of love with a Lady Laura, and a Miss Violet, but eventually returns to his first love, Mary, at home in Ireland. Unfortunately Mary has no money, and when Phineas feels he has to give up his government post as he can no longer vote with the government on the subject of Irish tenant rights, he has to give up London and return to Ireland to try at last and make a career as a lawyer.

As always with Trollope, this is an engaging and complex story, and you come to care for Phineas and relate to the painful maturing process of his twenties. This is the more so because you know you have four novels to go, in which Phineas will reappear in various ways, probably right up to old age. One of the delights of this second novel is in fact meeting again characters frm the first one, and even one character from Trollope's Barchester novels, a series I read in those dark and miserable days before this blog.

I found the multiple love affairs a bit unlikely, and the politics sometimes a drag, but I would say I was most entertained for at least 700 of the 800 pages. I leave you with a little bit of unexpected Trollopian wisdom on, of all things, comparing British and American politics:
It is not so in the United States. There the same political enmity exists, but the political enmity produces private hatred. The leaders of parties there really mean what they say when they abuse each other, and are in earnest when they talk as though they were about to tear other limb from limb.
If only the Tea Party were reading Trollope!


  1. "If only the Tea Party were reading Trollope!" lol.

    Such chunksters sometimes scare me, though I've read my share of them. I still have Remembrance of Things Past and I want to read it 10 pages a day.

  2. You totally should! It is a long slog, but I think it is SO worth it. There can be like 200 pages of blah-blah-blah, but then there will be 500 pages of brilliance. It is a wonderful novel.

  3. Nice review, Sarah! I haven't read Trollope yet, though I used to pick it from the library bookshelf and browse it when I was a student. I am in the mood to read chunksters these days (am reading 'The Pickwick Papers' now) and so I thought I will ask you. Which of Trollope's books would you recommend that a new reader can start with?

  4. I love that quote about the politics, so true and how sad it is. I am impressed you are reading and enjoying these huge classic tomes - they terrify me! I am always impressed when others read them and a little scared that I might have to at some point ;)

  5. Oh I love a giant book! I somehow feel shortchanged by a 200 page book - I kind of don't want to invest, because it's over so soon. Vishy, you must try Trollope! I warn you, he is not everyone's cup of tea, but if you do like him he is a great find. I recommend either CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? or THE WARDEN - both very good, and both begin series, so if you get hooked you are started in the right place x

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