haracters in the Palliser chronicle are as uneasy away from London as characters in the earlier Barsetshire chronicle were uneasy in it. So much is obvious, but it is enough to indicate the very great differences between the two series. One chronicle is comic and pastoral, the other ironic and sophisticated. Noticing, then, that Mrs. Carbuncle is less amusing than Madeline Neroni or that Alice Vavasor is more complex than Lucy Robarts gives us no grounds for making any value judgements. Characters in comedy had surely better be funnier, those in irony more serious. Granting that, though, the Palliser novels still seem to me Trollope's finest achievement.1 They are more unified, both in theme and method, than the Barsetshire series, which suffers from an uncertain start and a very abrupt shift between Framley Parsonage and The Small House at Allington. The working out of the dramatized issues is in the political novels much gentler, a quality we would expect, but it is also more controlled and more inclusive. The Palliser series as a whole resolves those issues with which it deals far less satisfactorily than does the earlier series, but it deals with more issues of greater intricacy. The inconclusiveness is simply a characteristic of the ironic form chosen, but the comprehensiveness and subtlety are evidence of the size of Trollope's accomplishment.
Just as the Barsetshire chronicle explores the range of comedy, so does this series exploit varieties of irony. The earlier series describes a comic cycle, tracing the fruition, collapse, and renewal of a comic society. But here such cycles are mocked. Opening with at least surface happiness in Can You Forgive Her? and Phineas Finn, the series then loses touch even with this surface and is never able to reconstruct even superficial comfort. The original affirmations [175/176] are retested in the central novels, The Eustace Diamonds and Phineas Redux and never again have power. The last novels, The Prime Minister and The Duke's Children are much quieter, teasing us with hopes of a return to the reconciliations available at the beginning. But it is only teasing; all the novels finally describe the same failure. Reconciliations are attempted, but they are now lonely and pointless acts. The archdeacon is no longer there to welcome the return of Mr. Crawley to social life.
I suggested earlier the contrast between Mr. Crawley's isolation and that of Phineas Finn, but the situations are so important that some further attention may be warranted. Mr. Crawley is never without the unshakable support of a large part of the community and a strong and coherent, if irrational, value system. Mr. Harding's testament to his innocence is typical: 'I cannot for a moment sup- pose that a clergyman and a gentleman such as Mr. Crawley should have stolen money' (42). Mr. Harding is supporting a system, not just an individual; he puts his complete faith in 'clergymen' and 'gentlemen.' Since Mr. Crawley is both of these, he is clearly innocent. The whole flurry of defence and accusation is, according to Mr. Harding, a bother to the good men on the jury. Since the values of the heart are so clear, the rational dependence upon evidence and logic is absurd. When Phineas Finn is similarly accused and similarly isolated, no such deep-rooted value system springs to his rescue. Most of the loyalty he does encounter comes from a gallant resolve on the part of friends to stick to him even if he is guilty. Like his closest political friend Mr. Monk, they can have no 'conviction' of his innocence, despite their confidence in him. Sounding initially very much like Mr. Harding, Monk says, 'I believed you innocent with all my heart.' But the heart is no longer enough; as Monk goes on to explain: 'there was always sufficient possibility of your guilt to prevent a rational man from committing himself to the expression of an absolute conviction' (68). Rational men, caught in an irrational world, paradoxically must distrust the irrational values of the heart. Monk sadly explains that he would have no absolute confidence even in himself, 'because both you and I are human and fallible' (68).
Mr. Harding's world and even Mr. Harding are fallible too, but that fallibility did not erase all assurances, as it does in Phineas's case. In one case it is unthinkable that any gentleman could steal; in the other, it might be that one's most intimate and trusted friend [176/177] could turn murderer. At its lowest point, the Barsetshire world admits fallibility as a condition of life, but in the political novels it becomes the pervasive, almost the only condition. When all intuitive assurances are gone, we are left, these novels imply, with only the paltry resources of reason. As Phineas's case illustrates, one might almost as well trust to blind chance. Without permanent securities, there are no genuine public connections between people, no real society. As we move from the Barsetshire country into London, we find a world more crowded but without cohesion. The Palliser novels deal with the attempts of human beings to live in a world without community. Even the relationship between husband and wife is usually tense and distant; those who try to establish wider connections fail most completely. Just so, the secret plot of the chronicle is the crushing of the one who tries hardest of all, Lady Glencora.
In the Barsetshire series the main energies of all the novels, even the dark ones, were enlisted in trying to accommodate or bring back into the fold those who were pushed outside.2 Here the corresponding energies are devoted to submerged, frustrated rebellion. From Alice Vavasor's strong resistance to marriage, through Lady Glencora's witty expressions of dissatisfaction, Phineas's consuming sense of injustice, Lizzie Eustace's vague searchings for Byronic excitement, Lady Laura Kennedy's wild frustrations, to Lady Mabel Grex's open bitterness, the chronicle deals with characters unwilling to accept either the absurd restrictions of society or the unmeasured absurdity to be found outside its restrictions. They find that since there is no effective centre to society, no binding code of values, there is nothing substantial against which to rebel. In Barsetshire, potential rebels were always provided with the ideal therapy of a good, solid opponent. Mrs. Proudie, to take the best example, is wonderfully useful to the archdeacon, Lady Lufton, and Mr. Crawley. But here distinctions are so hard to make that enemies are difficult to locate and keep track of. At one point in Phineas Redux Quintus Slide is interestingly called 'Slope' by a character who cannot remember his proper name. It is an instructive error, perhaps reminding us how Mr. Slope's deviousness was so simple in comparison, really all of a piece. There is never a chance that he will [177/178] abandon low-church doctrines and go in for chanting. But what or whom is Quintus Slide supporting? What, for that matter, holds together the coalition government headed by the Duke? In all cases such unions as there are arise from restless, irrational self-interest. Any truces are temporary; the usually secure boundaries are badly blurred. Political enmity is all show, as, in the instructive case of Mr. Bonteen, is political friendship. In private life it is the same: even the duel over Violet Chiltern is an ambiguous, murky affair, fought without much purpose between two friends. Madame Max tells Phineas that he must learn to live in this world of shadows and secrets. He is, she says, being undermined by pretended friends and must 'countermine or ... be blown up.' He says lamely that he'd 'rather fight above ground,' but Madame Max knows that things are never that simple or that clear: 'That's all very well, but your enemies won't stay above ground' (37). Social life is no longer the happy open warfare between high- and low-church parties that provided so much spirit and festivity to both camps. It is now genuine and divisive war carried on with secret weapons against unknown foes on hidden grounds and for an unclear cause.
The problems still are social ones, as they were in the Barsetshire series, but now the dominant perspective is the individual's upon society, not the reverse. In the Barsetshire series, we were urged to identify with a community and its values, seeking to incorporate the strays and the eccentrics; here we are asked to identify with a single character looking for some union somewhere. The relation between public and private lives is an essential motif in both series. The Barsetshire chronicle begins with an image of the powerful Tom Towers and Obadiah Slope, insisting on the absolute and disastrous distinction between public and private. The chronicle then moves to heal the breach. In Doctor Thorne, Frank Gresham becomes both a real squire, publicly respected and powerful, and a happily married man, suggesting the intimate connection of the public and private beings. In Framley Parsonage nearly every character moves out of isolation into a similar union. Mr. Crawley traces the same pattern in the darker world of The Last Chronicle and provides a model for that world. In the Palliser series, however, such a union is never achieved by a major character. In the dominant plot both Plantagenet Palliser and Lady Glencora strive for just such a state. He begins with only a public self, as his hilarious by-the-book flirtation with Griselda Grantly shows; Glencora has only a private self. He moves to [178/179] develop a corresponding inner life, Glencora a reputation; he wants to feel love, while she wants to be Prime Minister. They pass one another on the way, however, and the Duke at the end has to make the best of his imperfect memories. Glencora has her try at getting herself into memoirs, fails, and dies.
The two controlling and linked images throughout are those of marriage and politics. Women characteristically look at marriage as a public act and therefore a violation of their private selves. They either resist as well as they can or propose a desperate marriage of the 'heart' which is equally futile. There seems to be no choice except that between the bland, public perfection of John Grey, Plantagenet Palliser, and Lord Popplecourt, or the dangerous, totally private romance offered by George Vavasor, Burgo Fitzgerald, and Ferdinand Lopez.3 Women are pressed either to abandon their selves or to plunge into some kind of private insanity. But men in public life face much the same choice. While political opposition provides all the freedom and all the fun, those who stay perpetually in opposition are, like Mr. Turnbull, seen as egocentric, finally useless. There is nothing substantial about such apparently pure private selves. Turnbull's only public being is defined, then, by slogans and newspapers. An unreal man, he mocks the proposed union of the public and private. On the other hand, holding office can require such a suppression of private opinion that the private self disappears, as the Duke finds out when, as Prime Minister, he is asked to be satisfied with being absolutely nothing, a necessary nothing, of course, but nothing all the same. Phineas discovers the great risks that are entailed by a man in office who tries also to have opinions and a selfhood of his own. There is never any balance allowed. Some recommend the satisfactions of a mixture, an in-and-out-of-power rhythm that alternates between roles and might seem to give some pathetic imitation of balance. It is as if a woman were advised to try a variety of marriages, alternating between wild men and respectable M.P.s. This last course is the one that many do attempt in their way. Lady Glencora marries the respectable M.P. and tries to live essentially with the memory of Burgo Fitzgerald. She finds the oscillation as little satisfying as does her husband when he meets the political version of it.
This public-private division controls the chronicle, as characters seek one way or another to express their own beings in relation to [179/180] others. Their repeated failures or at best unsatisfactory compromises suggest that final separation between intention and act. What one is, they feel, is violated by what one does. Everyone is looking for a plot that will explain things to him, but such plots as there are only burlesque coherent explanations.
The series opens on a world controlled by the same dark premises that had touched the Barsetshire chronicle only at its lowest point. Can You Forgive Her? depicts the same resistance to the arguments of romantic comedy that controlled the themes and form of The Small House at Allington. Instead of the obtrusiveness of Lily Dale's holdout, however, Can You Forgive Her? keeps open the form more subtly and denies the comic resolution by stressing secret reservations. Such reservations are even more troubling than Lily's since they are seen as normal, not neurotic or exceptional. Can You Forgive Her? focuses mainly on the basic division as seen in the marriage theme, introducing only at the novel's close the parallel political theme4 which is developed centrally in the next novel, Phineas Finn. Both of these novels provide a sort of conclusion, but no actual solution, to the problems they dramatize, and thereby give a sense of, at best, a lucky escape from a very bleak world. This world is revealed fully in The Eustace Diamonds, which sets out to define the absurd conditions of existence under which one must operate. It thus exposes the secret darkness of the first two novels and provides a suggestion that any of the hopes for fulfilment that come up in succeeding novels will be crushed. By itself, it is a static novel, almost an essay, but it works forwards and backwards in the series, which it, in one sense, interrupts, almost as if it were the key to the secret code, revealed to us when we are half-way through the message. The next novel, Phineas Redux, shows the effects of the new revelation. Phineas' luck has now become all bad, and we begin to see all luck as a symptom of absurdity. The Prime Minister is the climax of the series, in that it takes the Duke, always with Glencora at the heart of the chronicle,5 and allows him to plunge directly into the destructive element. The [180/181] Duke is Trollope's strongest character, according to his own judgement, a 'perfect gentleman' (Autobiography 185, 361), but as Prime Minister he is miscast as badly as Mr. Harding would have been as bishop. The few acts the Duke is allowed to perform are dismissed as 'quixotic' even by his staunchest supporters. Glencora finds a similar emptiness where she thought she would find the centre of the world. The Duke's Children is Trollope's subtlest novel and a beautiful conclusion to the series. It suggests that the Duke, or any other 'perfect gentleman,' can in fact adjust by learning to live alone, converting no one to his standards, making no one understand. The search for society ends with the image of this great man drawing back into himself.
The chronicle opens with an equally subtle picture of failure. The plot of Can You Forgive Her? follows a comic pattern, but it is so deeply shadowed as to lend to the whole the disturbing effect the narrator attributes to winter light: 'It is the light of the afternoon, and gives token of the speedy coming of the early twilight. It tells of the shortness of the day, and contains even in its clearness a promise of the gloom of night. It is absolute light, but it seems to contain the darkness which is to follow it' (31). Nothing is exactly what it appears to be in this novel, nor can anyone give voice to what he is. Plantagenet Palliser is 'very careful in his language,' labouring after 'accuracy' at all costs, and consequently 'he rather prided himself on being dull' (24). Such language suggests an accuracy that is lifeless because it is emotionless. It accurately reflects nothing. On the other hand, poetic characters like Burgo Fitzgerald or especially George Vavasor employ language as a weapon. George's electioneering slogan—'Vavasor and the "River Bank"'—like all his words, asserts a meaning, or seems to assert a meaning, that is not there. Private and romantic language is therefore so suspect that public men disdain it altogether. Parliamentary etiquette for public speech puts eloquence first on the list of faults, ahead of being 'inaccurate,' 'long-winded,' and 'ill-tempered' (42). One sort of meaninglessness is substituted for another. Such a split is a desperate one, and it finally guarantees the uselessness of communication, even between such honest men as Plantagenet Palliser and John Grey: 'We all know that neither of them would put the matter altogether in a true light. Men never can do so in words, let the light within themselves be ever so clear' (77). [181/182]
In a way, the only language that is truly expressive is the language of attack, the language of wit.6 Glencora is the true wit, and her language is both more effective and more hostile than that of anyone else. When her husband stuffily rebukes her for using such vulgar expressions as 'the long and the short of it,' she sharply defends herself by claiming that the phrase is 'good English' (49). Glencora is the true conservative here and throughout, imagining that the coherence implied by 'good English' can be maintained. She fights to bring back into being another language, one in which words have a direct connection with reality. For her and for Alice Vavasor, the key word and the key illusion is 'freedom.' The novel is, in fact, very largely an ironic exploration of this term.
Can You Forgive Her? opens on an image of the trapped man, old Mr. Vavasor, whose function in this world, endlessly signing forms he does not read, suggests the futility of all energy. He tries to maintain a grumbling sort of dignity, but he can really express no substance. He truly is nothing and thus defines the essential starting-point for the problems involving the major characters, all of whom are women. Three women, Alice Vavasor, Lady Glencora, and Mrs. Arabella Greenow, are each asked to choose between two lovers, each pair consisting of one prudent and one romantic man. Alice and Glencora reject the poetic choice (George Vavasor and Burgo Fitzgerald) and marry into a public life (with John Grey and Plantagenet Palliser, respectively). The minor plot involving the widow Greenow, however, reverses the major plots on this, as on every other, point. Mrs. Greenow chooses 'the rocks and valley' over the substantial dungheaps.
All three provide answers to the pointed question, 'What should a woman do with her life?' It appears that as soon as such a question is asked, as soon as a woman obtains any self-consciousness about her situation, all the easy answers disappear. Wealth and rank are no protection against nothingness, as the Palliser girls, Iphy and Pheme, illustrate. Jeffrey explains that they are not political, being 'too clever to give themselves up to anything in which they can do nothing. Being women they live a depressed life, devoting themselves to literature, fine arts, social economy, and the abstract sciences. They write wonderful letters' (23). Not all are content to write wonderful letters, however, and try for something more—for [182/183] wonderful lives. The novel traces three such attempts, two of which are anything but successful, despite the wit and strength of the women involved. The third attempt, made by the widow Greenow, succeeds with such ridiculous ease as to emphasize the central irony. This is what should happen, says this subplot; this is how problems should be swept aside. This subplot has the effect of making the dilemmas of the two major characters more apparent and more tantalizing.
None is more tantalizing than the dilemma of Alice Vavasor. 'What are we to forgive?' asked James. Where is the moral question (Nation 409)? Why does she marry in the end, if there was such a major issue at stake? Isn't 'the tragedy but a simple postponement of the wedding-day'?8 Is it not, finally, 'a maddeningly contradictory novel' with this 'hard-hearted, boring prude' at its centre (Polhemus 110-111)? Though the book does not appear to have been 'the pioneer of the problem novel,' as Escott claimed (209), since so few have noticed that it was working anywhere close to the frontier, there is certainly a problem presented, a major moral and psychological problem. James, who wrote about the same dilemma exactly in The Portrait of a Lady, should have known better. Perhaps he did. In any case, Alice, like Isabel Archer, is out to test the conditions and extent of her freedom: 'People always do seem to think it is so terrible that a girl should have her own way in anything' (3). She resists persuasion for the same reasons a rabbit shuns a trap—'I haven't much of my own way at present; but you see, when I'm married I shan't have it at all' (3). As a result, to the imperious Lady Midlothian she seems 'the most self-willed young woman I ever met in my life' (26). Very likely she is; Alice is, or wants to be, literally self-willed. But the assertion of independence, she feels, is an assertion of isolation. She can find no way out of this dilemma. 'All her troubles and [183/184] sorrows in life,' the narrator says, 'had come from an over-fed craving for independence' (43). But in the craving for independence is her only hope. The narrator's characterization of her hope as 'over-fed' marks an embarrassed hesitance that shadows a few of the comments on Alice. It is almost as if the narrator wished now and then to disavow the plain implications of the subject, to turn away from the direction in which the study was obviously tending. At one point, as Alice is wrestling with the 'what-should-a-woman-do-with-her-life?' problem, the narrator breaks in impatiently with a blustering answer: 'fall in love, marry the man, have two children, and live happy ever afterwards. I maintain that answer has as much wisdom in it as any other that can be given;—or perhaps more' (11). Whatever its intent, such a simple-minded comment actually heightens our awareness of the difficulties of the complex plight Alice faces. The narrator's answer is a piece of romantic wisdom that applies only to the widow Greenow, who is miraculously blessed by a comic goddess otherwise impotent.
Alice's notions of what she wants are altogether unclear; she 'had by degrees filled herself with a vague idea that there was a something to be done; a something over and beyond, or perhaps altogether beside that marrying and having two children;—if she only knew what it was' (11). She cannot find 'what it was' because 'it' is nowhere objectified or available in her surroundings. What she feels more sure of is that neither of the two choices offered to her, George and Grey, leads to much of anything, different as they appear to be. She flits between the two, each grasping at her and trying to cage her as she retreats from the other. But she hears the chains clanking on both sides and thus tries to fly free. She originally resists Grey, partly to thwart her smug guardians and persuaders, partly because he is too obviously perfect, but mostly because he assumes total command in every smooth, untroubled gesture. He is as secure as a hunter in a duck preserve: 'He shook his head and still smiled. There was something in the imperturbed security of his manner which almost made her angry with him. It seemed as though he assumed so great a superiority that he felt himself able to treat any resolve of hers as the petulance of a child' (11). Grey is a man of pure surface and public language. He looks, Kate says, 'as though he was always bethinking himself that he wouldn't wear out his clothes' (6), a characterization not altogether unfair in its suggestion of his self-absorbed prudence. But though superficial, [184/185] he is not weak; the surface is almost overpowering: 'he always spoke and acted as though there could be no question that his manner of life was to be adopted, without a word or thought of doubting, by his wife' (3). His ignorant insensitivity is thus a source of strength. Even Lady Macleod, who has been pushing Alice toward a marriage with Grey with all her might, is no longer surprised at Alice's reluctance after she actually meets Grey and sees what his perfection amounts to (15). The theme of Grey's subtly repulsive, masterful perfection is so brilliantly handled that the narrator pretends not quite to understand it himself: 'I do not know how to explain that it was so; but it was this perfect command of himself at all seasons which had in part made Alice afraid of him' (36). By this means we are made to see how deep and how intuitive are the causes for Alice's revolt against him. Grey himself can comprehend nothing of this, of course, attributing Alice's aversion to him to 'the effects of a mental hallucination,' 'a disease' (61). The truth is that Alice regards what the narrator terms Grey's 'immobility' (74) as a kind of death. She tries to explain, telling him that while their marriage would add some minor diversification to his old life, she would have to pass 'through a grave' (10). She needs from him some recognition of her humanity, at least the chance to be overcome by persuasion rather than smug assumptions: 'she could not become unambitious, tranquil, fond of retirement, and philosophic, without an argument on the matter,—without being allowed even the poor grace of owning herself to be convinced. If a man takes a dog with him from the country up to town, the dog must live a town life without knowing the reason why;—must live a town life or die a town death. But a woman should not be treated like a dog' (63).
To demonstrate that she is human, Alice decides to escape on a trip with her cousins Kate and George Vavasor. George had previously been engaged to Alice, had been dismissed for some atrocity, and is thus the most indiscreet of partners, which is one of his two charms: no one approves of him. The other is that he is 'poetic.' 'I'm made up of poetry,' he says, defining poetry as a kind of enforced obtuseness: 'in this world things are beautiful only because they are not quite seen, or not perfectly understood' (5). George takes such advantage of this uncertain and fluid state of things, plays so on one's pathetic hope for some relief from emptiness, that the narrator feels called upon to issue a warning against him. George is essentially mysterious, 'but to my thinking mystery [185/186] is a vice' (12). George, just like Burgo, is 'reckless,' perceiving clearly enough the artificiality and instability of rules of conduct to be careless about them. Without the support of any rules, he becomes desperate and finally violent. Alice agrees to marry him, telling her father, 'I am prepared to run risks now' (34), but she has no idea what she is in for, what 'poetry' really is. George becomes threatening, treats her as a 'prisoner' (35), and teaches her what it is to be 'desolate and alone in the world' (34). 'He has treated me as I should have thought no man could have treated a woman' (54), she says, a horrible shock that shows her what 'mystery' has to offer and sends her laden with guilt back to Grey.
It is this guilt which is indicated in the title. Alice's cousin Kate could show her how love can be turned to guilt, which in turn becomes an intense desire for punishment. But Alice does not understand. Kate's devotion to her brother is so unnaturally intense that Alice cannot help but notice: '"And who are you?" said Alice, laughing, "You are not going to be his wife?'" (32). She fails to see, however, that Kate is actively seeking her own retribution, trying to find the nothingness Alice is trying to escape: 'If George ever married,' Kate says, 'I should have nothing to do in the world;—literally—nothing—nothing—nothing—nothing!' (6). Yet her single activity for most of the novel is the attempt to get George married, to satisfy her guilt by becoming nothing. Ironically, Kate eventually resists her brother's demands and breaks this pattern, just as Alice falls into it.
Why does Alice feel such urgent need for forgiveness and, at the same time, fiercely resist the forgiveness she receives? Why, more especially, does the narrator keep punching at us: 'But can you forgive her, delicate reader?' (37). Alice surely would not desire our forgiveness; she is furious when Lady Midlothian offers hers. Though she cannot exactly stop Grey from forgiving her, she can hang on to her own deep guilt: 'I am not fit to be your wife. I am not good enough' (70). As long as she can maintain her grip on this guilt, she can, of course, elude Grey. But there are, I think, other less rational reasons; her sincerity is almost fierce in these passages of self-abasement. The suggestion is that the guilt derives from a secret 'fault,' not her love for George, which in truth she never felt, but the independent exercise of will. Forgiving herself for that fault would mean, in effect, renouncing that independent will. As long as she can hold on to her guilt, she can, ironically, [186/187] protect the shreds of her freedom. Masochism, then, for her as for Isabel Archer, is the last defence of independence, the last pathetic proof that they were and are free.
Grey perhaps senses just a little of this, seeing that his forgiveness of her will be worth nothing until he can induce her to forgive herself (73). He tries therefore to obliterate the protection she has in memory: 'Come to me, dear, and . . . the past shall be only as a dream' (74). But it is the past that supports her and she tries very hard to block his attacks on it: 'I am dreaming it always' (74), she cries. Finally she is crushed: 'she had taken her fling at having her own will, and she and all her friends had seen what had come of it' (75). She has tried to unite her private being with a public self and has made a fool of herself. She therefore gives up, accepts forgiveness and grants it to herself, and accepts marriage as the appropriate sentence on her. There is little question that Grey will be on the alert against any further outbreaks of spirit: 'He seldom allowed outspoken enthusiasm to pass by him without some amount of hostility' (77). We are asked to participate in a very ironic forgiveness, asked, in other words, to assist in the suppression of her will.
Glencora is more dramatic, more witty, and more intelligent than Alice, but their situations are so very similar that they are mutually illuminating. To understand more fully why Glencora married Plantagenet Palliser in the first place, we can look at Alice's reaction to similar pressures; to forecast what life would be with John Grey, we have the guide of Glencora's marriage. The major difference is that Glencora did not have the vigorous anti-romantic lesson George Vavasor administered to Alice and can, therefore, maintain some spirit and some contact with a past she now passionately idealizes. Burgo Fitzgerald is gentle, naturally sweet, where George is brutal, but both play the same roles. Both are instinctive rebels, united in their 'recklessness.' Burgo's unconscious beauty, his inability to reflect, his naive insistence on freedom, all conspire to imprison him. He is an idyllic character caught in a world which has no time for idylls, and his reflexive desperation is much stronger even than George's more calculated rebellion. Burgo tries to exist in pure, unselfish romance, in a sort of eternal present (see ch. 50). But the result of such innocence is that even George is shocked by Burgo's egocentric morality and warns him that he must not carry off Glencora now that she is married: 'marriage is marriage,' he says (29). The pure Burgo and the vicious George achieve [187/188] an essential unity all the same: neither instinctive nor planned rebellions have a chance. When last seen at Baden-Baden, where men go for gambling, for suicide, or for both, Burgo shows that he has finally been thrust out of his world of innocence and has begun to reflect: 'It seems to have been ordered that I'm to go to the devil; but I don't know who gave the orders, and I don't know why' (76).
Glencora's own search for freedom is not blocked so dramatically, but it is kept alive only by her resolute and powerful comic wit. She marries a man who, whatever he later becomes, is here an enemy of youth and its values. When he first came on the scene, back in The Small House at Allington, Platagenet Palliser had been introduced as 'a thin-minded, plodding, respectable man, willing to devote all his youth to work' (23). The disguised model for this marriage is that of January and May, though here the element of sexual perversion is of course submerged. Even Palliser's generous attempts to make his wife more comfortable seem shuffling, oddly insensitive. For all his generosity and kindness, one has a sense that even in his greatest moment, when he leaves Glencora alone with Burgo and snubs Mr. Bott, he is exercising in an impersonal way the grand old gentlemanly code. Glencora is seen primarily as 'my wife,' whom it behoves one to treat with every delicacy and with no shade of suspicion. He has almost nothing beyond this public stance to offer. The first words we hear him speak, again in The Small House at Allington, are, 'I don't see anything to laugh at' (23). Humourless precisely because he has no rebellious instincts to tap, no fund of embarrassment, anxiety, or aggression that could be drained, he is the pure public man. Even his face is remarkable only for being so entirely unremarkable, so totally without individuality: 'It was a face that you might see and forget, and see again and forget again' (22).
He exactly inverts the values Glencora holds to so firmly. 'To lose his influence with his party would be worse to him than to lose his wife' (24). This is a fierce indictment of him, as is his treatment of Glencora's emotional confession of her love for Burgo: '"You must love me now," he had replied with a smile; and then, as regarded his mind, the thing was over' (24). 'His instincts were dull' (43), the narrator wryly comments. As a consequence, he unconsciously taunts his wife with his easy assumption of smooth control. He treats her as a child who wants 'keepers,' nearly forcing her, just [188/189] as Grey forces Alice, into the same recklessness as her lover: 'I can fancy a woman being driven to do wrong simply by a desire to show her policeman that she can be too many for him' (48). But Glencora really resents Palliser's tyranny less than his hollowness: 'what hard treatment, even what beating, could be so unendurable as this total want of sympathy, as this deadness in life, which her present lot entailed upon her?' (43). She turns to Alice for love and for help, but all that is a little like Claudius asking Hamlet for counsel. Neither Hamlet nor Alice wants to see the problems, precisely because they are their own problems. Alice does not want to imagine herself in Glencora's impossible position because she does not want to see that she is already there. So the one friend who might help is very cold; Alice has no choice but to act as some lecturing fool or not to act at all. She has before been one of Glencora's policemen, guiding her away from romance, but she is now unhappy with that role. She withdraws, then, and Glencora is left to form 'an assured conviction that on either side there must be misery for her' (58). When Glencora ironically helps put pressure on Alice later to marry Grey, another version of Planty Pall, there may possibly be something of vengeance in her motive. Principally, however, both women join with the world against the rebel because they are unable to see any way out of the dilemma and because they are unable really to face what they themselves have lost.
The question is, though, whether Glencora really loses. One might ask whether it is not true that Platagenet Palliser begins courageously to develop privately, even if it is late to begin. The choice to throw over his great dream of public office at the Exchequer in order to travel with his wife seems to signal a genuine change in his values. Even his relative solidity gives Glencora a target for her wit and a happy grievance; his generosity allows her wit nearly unlimited freedom. All this is true, but beneath the progressive growth and development of Palliser as a human being is a strong resistance movement in Glencora's refusal to put up with a half-formed, public lover. Even his warmest, most affectionate gestures seem to her to amount to very little, much less than she has a right to expect: 'He says that he loves me . . . but he does not know what love means' (59). Though she knows that he has behaved 'with genuine, true nobility' (59), the love seems to her paltry. The great kindness, further, seems to her a trap, and she refers throughout the last part of the novel in very barbed jokes to [189/190] his generosity as her 'defeat.' He kills her with kindness, she says; 'he found that I wanted looking after, and that Mrs. Marsham and Mr. Bott between them couldn't do it' (62).
Such jokes certainly have their sting. Even the narrator reminds us that Palliser's patient generosity costs him very little since 'he had his own way in everything. Lady Glencora did not behave very well,—contradicting her husband, and not considering, as, perhaps, she ought to have done, the sacrifice he was making on her behalf. But, then, she had her own way in nothing' (68). She sees her pregnancy as the last of the great padlocks. Faced with this imprisonment, she retains her wit as the one reminder of the past: 'I wish I had never told him a word about [the pregnancy]. He would never have found it out himself, till this thing was all over' (73). She says 'the devil prompted me' (80) to tell the Duke she expected the baby to be a girl. This devil keeps her alive, even as she goes to Gatherum Castle for the ceremonial birth of the new heir: 'I was completely in their power and couldn't help their bringing me here' (80). By the time of The Prime Minister it is Glencora who wants to reopen the castle, Palliser who wants only to live with those he loves. But this sad reversal is another story.
The other story within Can You Forgive Her? is that of the widow Greenow. Trollope liked this subplot, but he has had very little company in this judgement (Autobiography 180). While it is true that the humour is broad and a bit repetitive, its broadness, at least, is an asset, contrasting as it does with the delicacy of the main plots. For this subplot is a parody plot. The third woman in the novel has all the freedom she wants. She has no dilemmas, certainly no psychological ones, and she manages not only to arrange her own perfect marriage, but those of others too. She turns even her grief, which is not wholly hypocritical, into useful equipment, but this is always used for festivity. Her own suitors—the wealthy, dull Cheesacre, who shares with Grey a preference for the Eastern wasteland, and the disreputable Captain Bellfield—parody the choices facing Glencora and Alice. Mrs. Greenow does not, how ever, have to decide between two kinds of 'misery,' but between two diverse forms of comfort: 'She was essentially a happy-tempered woman, blessed with a good digestion, who looked back upon her past life w ith contentment, and forward to her future life with confidence' (47). She can be established so simply because in her world things are terribly simple. There are [190/191] plenty of parallels with the issues dominating the central plots; Mrs. Greenow, for example, is herself a rebel against the smirking female propriety that demands a belief in the notion that 'little babies [are] found about in the hedges and ditches' (64). But such ties only demonstrate the more important contrasts. Mrs. Greenow's story, as much as the comic subplot in Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling, effectively sets the major stories over against the comic and romantic assumptions we would like to see maintained. She is made to burlesque conventional narratives of love in order to expose their unreality and suggest thereby the very stark reality of the main plots. It all has something of the effect of a before and after advertisement. Mrs. Greenow makes us see how far we have travelled from the world of wish-fulfilment and romantic comedy.
Phineas Finn is, by itself, a more hopeful story, a very optimistic record of defeat. Joined with its sequel, Phineas Redux, into the 'one novel' Trollope insisted they formed (Autobiography, p. 320), the Phineas story is a pessimistic view of triumph. Phineas Finn is, on the surface at least, a wonderful success story with a coy, downbeat ending. Phineas withdraws, but we respect his reasons for doing so, and we see that any withdrawal is certainly temporary. Phineas Redux is also a story of luck, bad luck this time, and Phineas, now without the support of the good fairy of comedy, without any support at all, struggles through a bitter education to a final accommodation with kindly obscurity. Phineas, like Micawber, seems at the end of Phineas Finn to have pulled back for a leap; we leave him crouching. But his leap back into English society is about as successful as Micawber's bouts with commerce. And Micawber, of course, is never serious, whereas Phineas puts all he has into his confident return.
The interval in Ireland seems clearly designed to allow Phineas a chance to regain his strength and his luck. Rather like Frye's model for the comedy of the green world, the pattern here makes use of nature to give renewed sustenance to the sophisticated society. Poor Mary Flood Jones, wed to Phineas at the end of the first novel and slaughtered before the second begins, seemed later to Trollope to be a mistake, a victim of crude plot exigencies (Autobiography 318). The marriage is essential, however, signalling as it does Phineas's sincere if temporary dedication to pastoral values. The [191/192] death is harsh, no doubt,12 but it serves to start the mythoi going in the second novel and seems to me a trivial fault, if it is one at all. The fuss about it illustrates, I think, one of the defects of plot criticism, Trollope's included.
Besides, a great deal more than Mary Flood Jones ties these novels together. Their unity is both interrupted and, at the same time, explained by The Eustace Diamonds, whose publication came between the two Phineas novels. The Eustace Diamonds depicts with an unmistakable sharpness the ironic conditions that make possible the terrors of Phineas Redux. The intervening novel breaks in with a commentary which in the end goes to establish the unbroken unity of the Phineas novel. It tells us how good luck and bad luck are finally the same. While respecting this unity, then, it is useful to show how it is developed—and explained—sequentially.
Phineas Finn picks up where Can You Forgive Her? left off, with the feminist issue, and discovers that the woman's dilemma is also man's. The only slightly disguised feminism is still there in Glencora, of course, now reinforced by the more subtly independent Madame Max Goesler. Lady Laura resolves 'that she would use the world as men use it, and not as women do' (39). And even Violet Effingham keeps up a steady stream of subversive jokes on the subject: 'I shall knock under to Mr. Mill, and go in for women's rights, and look forward to stand for some female borough' (51). Here the fight of women to preserve independence and personality is carried on with special reference to the public life, to politics. Lady Laura feels 'that a woman's life is only half a life, as she cannot have a seat in Parliament' (6), and Lady Glencora campaigns vigorously for an amount of political power sufficient for ten men. Like marriage, however, the political life is for women mostly a snare; what's more, its futility is pathetically obvious: 'It was manifestly a meeting of Liberals, semi-social and semi-political;—so arranged that ladies might feel that some interest in politics was allowed to them, and perhaps some influence also' (37).
One might say that these ties between love and politics are very artfully arranged to allow Trollope the chance to indulge himself in politics. 'As I was debarred from expressing my opinions in the House of Commons, I took this method of declaring myself, he [192/193] said, adding that he regarded the political parts of the novels as written principally 'for my own sake,' the rest for the readers (Autobiography 317). But in fact his own concerns and those allowed to the reader are the same. Politics demands of men the same impossible balance between the public and private selves faced by women in love. Does one follow his party or issues, men or measures, the present or posterity, abstract theory or hard-nosed empiricism? There are never any easy answers; perhaps there are no answers at all. On the broad issue of reform, for instance, the narrator intercedes and pretends to give us some help: the popular pressure for reform is premature nonsense trumped up by the press, but those who oppose reform generally are unconsciously protecting nothing but themselves; even the kindly Duke of St. Bungay is sarcastically said to be naturally averse to 'any change in a state of things that must seem to him to be so salutary' (35). The answer is characteristic of Trollope: no definite 'position' can be safe; only a delicate yet firmly grounded sensitivity to the demands of politics, party, God, the future, and the People's Banner is admired. When Phineas frets about the obscurity and instability of opposition and the tiresome hypocrisy of office, Lady Laura pompously says, 'Your career may combine the dignity of the one with the utility of the other' (64). But how? Being sometimes in and sometimes out is not a real 'combination'; it is as if one sought to be a balanced teacher by lecturing in a cap and gown for half the term and then joining nude in a democratic massage party for the other half. Phineas is finally searching for an answer to the same question that had concerned Alice Vavasor and Glencora: what is a person to do with his life? More exactly, how can one live publicly and socially and still retain control of his individuality? Mr. Monk, something of a moral arbiter here, explicitly tells Phineas at one point that his grumbling about the slavery of office is only part of a universal dilemma: 'If you mean that you cannot do joint work with other men altogether after your own fashion the same may be said of all work' (65). Marriage included.
Love and politics are the arenas in which this battle for a satisfactory balance is fought out. Phineas brings with him from Ireland the traditional weapons of heroes from the country: strength, good looks, innocence. But he clearly is not here to learn the trade and retire; neither he nor the novel extends its respect to Ireland or the country or the pastoral to the extent of wanting to abide there. [192/194] Everyone's values and hopes are tied up with the sophisticated world; idyllic times, like those in Barsetshire, are remembered only in such jokes as the Duke's garden party, where the 'picturesque effect' of lovers beneath haycocks must be purchased by the hour: 'though of all parties a garden party is the nicest, everybody is always anxious to get out of the garden as quick as may be' (63). There is no use worrying about Lily Dale and the corrupted pastoral. But nature is clearly not unimportant here either; it is used.
This use is not easy to describe, nor is it easy to effect with impunity. Phineas may use Mary Flood Jones, but he too is used by his party and friends. Lady Laura once again has a pathetically impracticable solution to this problem of the balance between innocence and experience, country and city: 'I think that a little of both is good for man and woman' (14). In-and-out-of-town is as far from being a real solution as is in-and-out-of-office. Crude oscillations never work. But there is another answer provided: the careful control and training of nature suggested by Madame Goesler. Understanding herself as well as she understands nature, she artfully turns her surroundings into the prettiest and most pleasing rooms in London. Her gardens 'were as bright and gay as money could make them when brought into competition with London smoke' (72). The terms are unsentimental but not satiric; she uses nature as effectively as is now possible. The room in which she receives 'almost looked as though it were a bower in a garden' (72). The pastoral world is not to be fully recaptured, but it can 'almost' be joined to sophistication by means of the tools of the world of experience, primarily money. Money is spent, however, in order to give pleasure: 'The seats, though they were costly as money could buy, were meant for sitting, and were comfortable as seats' (72). She has mastered 'the art of living,' the art of nature nurtured. In the world in which she must live the key values are those neither of sophistication nor innocence alone but of taste, the art of equipoise.
The central narrative pattern appears to describe Phineas's education toward such taste. Madame Max, with a little help from Lady Glencora, is the main tutor and thus the figure whose values we must attend to most closely.13 She is the most apparently sociable of Trollope's women: 'so great was her fertility in discoursing that all [194/195] conversational grasses seemed to grow with her spontaneously' (40). The mild satire in the indelicate metaphor is directed not at Madame Max but at the assumptions of pure pastoral. Madame Max is no innocent, but she has the secret of transforming private nature to public function. She speaks, moreover, from the very first meeting with Phineas, with a broad and full understanding of all issues, admitting that her radical desire to 'out-Turnbull Mr. Turnbull' might be indulged (like Phineas's, she implies) in the complete safety of ineffectuality but that she does not really 'want to put down ladies and gentlemen.' She concludes, 'But then, Mr. Finn, there is such a difference between life and theory;—is there not?' (40). Endorsed wisdom here, certainly, but to what does it lead? What answers does it provide? The exceptional thing about Madame Goesler as a moral focus is that she is herself adrift, wondering whether she has any 'definite object' at all, certain only that 'the hours with her were too long and the days too many' (54). Perfect insight provides no solutions, and the education of Phineas is thus given an equivocal final goal right from the start. Even if he learns to see and act as she does, what then can he do?
But he is at the beginning of the novel a long way from Madame Max's balanced life of perfect taste. He must first knock around for a time in the worlds of politics and love. In both spheres alternatives are arranged in rather neat dualisms so that as Phineas bangs back and forth between them we can almost leave it to the laws of physics to locate him finally at some midpoint between the equal but opposite extremes. Phineas begins politics as a murky idealist, supported ironically by a man who is on guard to blight any tiny growth of abstract thought. Barrington Erle is sincerely and simply disgusted with notions of conscience, independence—issues of any kind. When Phineas blushingly tells him, 'I have views of my own,' Erle claps him on the back with an assured, 'Of course you have, my dear boy' (1). He plans to take charge of Phineas, but Erle's pure empiricism answers far too few questions, and these too easily. He never has trouble making up his mind; he has no sense of future. Phineas soon learns that though decisions must be made, they must be more difficult than Erle supposes. He recognizes something of Erle's attitude even in Quintus Slide's absolute ignorance as to anything beyond a good fight and his grotesque mutual back-scratching sense of community: 'Damn it, I say; what's the good of a brotherhood if it ain't to be brotherhood?' (33). [195/196]
Phineas's landlord and suspicious friend, Mr. Bunce, forces him to see that there is something more required from those in government than plenty of oil for the machinery. The promotion of the absolutely indolent Laurence Fitzgibbon purely on the grounds of party loyalty convinces Phineas that surely 'there was something wrong' (44). But on the other side of empiricism are people like Mr. Gresham, an accomplished idealist 'with no feelings for the past, void of historical association' (29) and thus void also of the necessary complicating intuitions and memories that should make decisions difficult. Mr. Gresham is 'living altogether for the future which he is anxious to fashion anew out of the vigour of his own brain' (29), but it is an incorporeal future, as abstract, as Mr. Monk damningly says, as are Gresham's justice and his generosity. Just as Slide's opportunism ridicules Erle's empiricism, so Gresham's tendency toward abstraction is parodied by Mr. Turnbull's total absorption of the public life into himself. Turnbull constructs nothing, takes no responsibility (even for the accuracy of his charges), and simply slashes away at existing evils. Monk says explicitly that his great fault lies in his forgetting the difference between private and public life. Even at a private dinner party for friends, Turnbull can descend no lower than speeches. 'I wonder,' says Monk, 'what sort of a time Mrs. Turnbull and the little Turnbulls have of it?' (18). If there is an approved model for political life, it is this Mr. Monk, uneasily refusing either extreme position, moving into opposition or into office, supporting men or measures, regarding party or principle, as the requirements of each situation demand. He is uncertain about his own abilities and actions, admired but misunderstood by his colleagues. He is a model but hardly a comforting one. Phineas is asked to mediate between absolutism and empiricism, self and service, but it is far from clear what the terms of that mediation are or whether they can be successfully achieved.
He is taught the same confusing lesson in his private life through the contrasted stories of Lady Laura and Violet Effingham. They indicate the alternate poles of this world, bad luck and good luck. There are various explanations given for Laura's tragic condition and Violet's happy one, but none of the explanations explains very much. Lady Laura doubtless marries with her eye too much on power and position, but that hardly accounts for Kennedy becoming a raving, gun-toting lunatic. Similarly, Chiltern's transformation, though subtler, is no less miraculous and just as little explicable by [198/199] reference to good qualities in his wife. These affairs simply indicate the boundaries, mark out the range of possibilities in a world ruled by luck. One story holds out the promise of comic fulfillment; the other warns of horrible ironic bondage. They illustrate in a stylized, almost didactic way alternate varieties of absurdity: unexplained joy, unexplained torture. Phineas's own mixed life thus seems ot be analyzed for him, as its strands are helpfully isolated.
Taken by itself, the story of Violet and Chiltern would be illustrative of a world ruled by secure comic principles. Like the happy lovers in He Knew He Was Right, they take a leap in the dark. Or rather she does: 'The risk would be so great. Suppose that I did not save him, but that he brought me to shipwreck instead?' (10). Chiltern himself is a man who seeks out violence and extreme danger, preferring 'to have something to do on horseback' (19), that is, to find the most perilous mount possible. He insists, against all reason, on proceeding with the absurd duel, clearly hoping for some damage, perhaps mostly to himself. He is an original, 'not like anybody else in the world,' and thus inexplicable by conventional standards (59). We can sense in this self-destructive individuality some of the force and integrity of the rebellion attempted first by Alice Vavasor and Glencora and later by nearly all the major characters in this series. Here the rebellion on behalf of the self is perverse as long as it is isolated; it has no form and no goal. It is only when it is joined with another's that it takes public shape, transforms itself from personal rebellion to an ordinary, healthy government. Violet is as rebellious as her lover, seeing through Phineas's conventional softness with almost frightening clarity and strongly resisting Chiltern's instinctive desire to imprison her in the past. 'Be a child still' (19), he urges, but she insists on being an adult, quite consciously isolating herself from what she sardonically calls the 'natural protectors' (46) of women. It is the women who make the decisions here, plunging into and directing the new life. The refusal to disengage herself from risk guarantees her individuality: she admits that she shares Chiltern's attraction to danger: 'A sense of danger does not make me unhappy, though the threatened evil may be fatal' (52). By joining this danger without reservation or illusion, without any of the comforting certainties of comedy, she finds comedy after all. This fully mature balance is so successful that it stands throughout the series as a wistful and lonely symbol of what might be. Their union is too dynamic to be contained within a term like 'perfect,' [197/198] but Violet's obvious relish of her role as free, witty, and powerful wife and Lord Chiltern's teeth-gnashing delight in being Master of the Hounds suggest a union of public and private roles that no one else ever comes close to attaining.
But there are hardly reasons to be found for their success, nor is there a school for studying such a pattern. Violet admits jokingly to Lady Laura that 'real tragedy' is altogether beyond her; 'I shall never go beyond genteel comedy' (10), she says. Her fortuitous discovery of genuine comedy is something of a miracle. Lady Laura herself does find 'real tragedy,' or would if there were any intelligible shape to her destiny. It runs straight downhill, but final explanations seem referable only to some distant abstractions like Fortune's wheel. Taken by itself, the Kennedy story might indeed be a tragedy of the sort Chaucer's Monk defines, illustrating the control of malevolence or some other more or less comprehensible spirit. But the juxtaposition with the Violet-Chiltern plot indicates that Lady Laura is less a victim of Fortune than of trivial bad luck.
Her marriage to Kennedy is calculated, to be sure, but not entirely heartless. And who would have thought that this nondescript lord would turn out to be a fanatic for power, turning the force of his religion, his family, most of all his maleness against her in order to make 'her feel that her lord and master was—her lord and master' (23)? He not only makes reading lists for her but expects her to follow them—on schedule. He does all this, we are told, because he senses her intellectual superiority and thus is most anxious to insist on his rights, rights which, when pressed, seem to Laura more absurd and more unjust. As she rebels, he becomes more self-righteous and tyrannical, more and more a man of 'hard, dry, unsympathising, unchanging virtues' (32). When pressed, he demands her entire will, and this is just what she feels she must protect: 'There are moments, Robert, when even a married woman must be herself rather than her husband's wife' (39). As he becomes more grimly conventional, insisting always on her 'duty,' she naturally comes to associate marriage itself with imprisonment: 'There is no tyranny to a woman like telling her of her duty. Talk of beating a woman! Beating might often be a mercy' (55).
The opposite side of the absurd world is thus a warning to Phineas, just as the Violet-Chiltern union beckons to him. But both illustrate the same principles. They also tell us something about Phineas himself. Violet's rejection of him suggests that his initia-[198/199]tion is not yet complete, that he is not qualified for comedy. Laura's tenacious clinging to him, on the other hand, and his growing resistance to her show how far he is removed from her genuine torment. She helps to show us how very slight his problems actually are. He usually realizes this himself, reflecting several times that, bad as his own condition seems to be, he is not, like Lady Laura, faced with 'no escape, no hope, no prospect of relief, no place of consolation' (56). 'The world,' he acknowledges, is always 'much better with him than it was with either of those two wretched married beings' (70). When at the end, in the throes of his disappointment, he echoes Laura's 'I am nobody' with 'I also am going to be a nobody' (75), we can see how wrong he is, how certain will be his return. He is never trapped as Laura is, partly because, as she says, a woman for some cruel reason is bowled out very easily, whereas a man may try again (75). Phineas is saved by his temperament, by luck, by the god of comedy, and also by his sex: he is, fortunately for him, not a woman. This last insistence is perhaps the subplot's strongest and most startling contribution to the novel.
But both subplots also suggest another characteristic of Phineas's education: its superficiality. Because he is denied both the rewards and the punishments, we have a feeling that he is somehow protected from the consequences and the real effects of his education. He is allowed to learn a little, but not much. Mostly he just observes. Like a schoolboy, he is shown the adult world but is not allowed to participate in it, and like a schoolboy he imagines that only pleasures are being withheld. Phineas's lucky story, his miraculous overcoming again and again of those odds which are at best 'twenty to one against him' (3), has about it an air of unreality. Success stories of this sort mean little either to Lady Laura or to Violet: it's like telling Captain Ahab and Falstaff about Horatio Alger heroes and expecting them to be stirred.
Phineas comes on the scene, the child of nature and fortune. All the traditional dilemmas of heroes have been solved for him; he doesn't even have to struggle with his father. Mr. Finn's love and admiration for his son are so great that he really absorbs himself into his son's personality. All problems seem to melt as magically before the young Irishman. 'It was simply his nature to be pleasant' (13), and he seems thus literally to be blessed. He has those fine instincts (and bigotries) of a gentleman that always correct him, even when, as with Quintus Slide, he is led an inch or two astray: 'he would have [199/200] liked the Banner better had not Mr. Slide talked about the 'Ouse' (26). Throughout he is attended by the same magic: rivals conveniently die or quarrel with one another, rotten boroughs beckon to him sweetly. But even at the happy time there is to Phineas something impersonal and therefore unsatisfactory in this luck: '"I never heard of a fellow with such a run of luck," said Erle. "It's just one of those flukes that occur once in a dozen elections. Any one on earth might have got in without spending a shilling"' (3).
'Any one on earth' is not what Phineas aspires to be, and he senses himself that mere luck tends to deny and not confirm his individuality. Because he is never really tested, then, he is not educated. Floating through the world, he never experiences humiliations and torments any more real than those that come upon him when he speaks, or does not speak, or tries to speak in the House. He is troubled by mock sufferings followed by unreal lamentations: 'I have simply been the greatest idiot, the greatest coward . . .' (20). He talks at one point of blowing out his brains, but Monk smoothly tells him, 'Do not suppose that you have made an ass of yourself,—that is, in any special degree' (26). Nothing about him is special; he is like any other adolescent. He moves toward individuality in his friendship with Chiltern, perhaps, and possibly even in his romantic affairs. But his ability to bounce back after being disappointed in love is so reliable as to be amusing. He tells himself that he is desolate, but goes to a party anyhow: 'A man must live, even though his heart be broken, and living he must dine' (53). Broken heart indeed. His dilemmas never become more serious than that posed by the offer from Laura of her father's controlled seat at Loughton. He agonizes comically as to the justice of accepting such a seat in order to fight against the very system that gave him a voice. His justifications are as shallow as his doubts, and Trollope finds deflating humour in the old earl's abrupt candour. He tells Phineas that all of his tenants are very 'obliging,' and that none of them has the slightest desire for a lease: 'They know they're safe. But I do like the people round me to be of the same way of thinking as myself about politics' (33). So much for liberal politics and the purity of young idealists. Even Madame Max cannot resist calling him 'Lord Brentford's member' (44). He is fretted by the problem and he frets his friends with it. Monk finally loses patience and angrily tells him to go to work and keep his mouth shut. This, of course, is what the Duke is told later when he becomes Prime Minister, [200/201] and it is devastating advice. But the Duke's problems are genuine; Phineas's problems, though they take the same form, are not—as yet.
Because his problems are so slight, there is a growing sense of his insubstantiality. He wonders himself how it is that he can love so often, so variously, at such short intervals, and with such overlappings, thinking that perhaps he is 'two separate persons' (35). But he is not so much a split personality as an incomplete one. The narrator reminds us that he seems 'beautifully ignorant' (39), despite what experience might have taught him with regard to Lady Laura. But it is Violet Effingham who gives the shrewdest analysis throughout. He lacks solidity, she claims, telling Lady Laura that he is not a lover but an apprentice, scurrying around practising for the real thing later (45). 'He is,' she says, 'a little too much a friend to everybody,' lacking in 'individuality' (71).
This suggests exactly why he must return to Ireland. He must acquire and develop that self and then come back without all the protections. He makes a stand on a question whose point is so insignificant that the narrator says he will not bother even to explain it (75). Phineas must choose somewhere to begin to assert himself, and this is as good a place as any. By so asserting himself he casts off luck and withdraws to gather strength for another try with a world whose conditions he now thinks he understands.
The Eustace Diamonds uses the intervening time to explain to us more precisely the nature of the world Phineas is preparing himself for. This is Trollope's most insistent, least relaxed novel; the narrator chooses every opportunity to generalize and to teach. At one point what must be Trollope's favourite song is quoted:
It is good to be merry and wise, It is good to be honest and true, It is good to be off with the old love Before you are on with the new. (35)
The narrator cannot resist pouncing on any simplicity, even the playful simplicity of this verse: 'There was never better truth spoken than this, and if all men and women could follow the advice here given there would be very little sorrow in the world. But men and women do not follow it. They are no more able to do so than they are to use a spear, the staff of which is like a weaver's beam, or to [201/202] fight with the sword Excalibur' (35). There is no effective romance now, not the slightest illusion, and we are not in this novel ever to be left in doubt as to the bleak nature of existence.
For all the emphasis on crime, detection, and punishment, The Eustace Diamonds is essentially static, demonstrating its nature in recurrence rather than cumulative development. We learn from the acidic portrait of Lady Linlithgow in the first chapter about all there is to know about this world; the rest of the novel simply repeats the lesson in more and more startling ways. Trollope doubtless capitalizes on the popularity of The Moonstone but his novel parodies Collins's methods and assumptions.14 Trollope's attack on plot is never used more organically. There is no forward motion here, no discovery, no real villainy. No action is genuinely purposeful, and effects do not follow causes. Lord George cruelly taunts Lizzie over and over with the absolute pointlessness of all her tricks: 'It's been uncommonly clever, but I don't see the use of it' (51). Even the wiliest character in the novel, Lady Carbuncle, is involved in a scheme which will wreck her no matter how it turns out and leave 'nothing around her but failure and dismay' (70). Failure and dismay are not hard to find here.15 The people Lizzie collects at Portray Castle—Mrs. Carbuncle, Lord George de Bruce Carruthers, Lucinda Roanoke, Sir Griffin Tewett, and Mr. Emilius—though not exactly a representative cross-section of the world, describe central tendencies of society much more accurately than society likes to think. Only slightly extending the unscrupulous and immoral behaviour dominant everywhere, this group of the wild and ugly are symptomatic of a world which has lost direction and control. Mrs. Carbuncle presides as an inverted wisdom figure, whose bitterness is both repulsive and accurate: 'It's the way of the world. The lower you fall, the more you're kicked' (40). She understands the way of the world so well that she can insist openly on regular accountings so as not to be cheated. She is even anxious on such matters as wedding presents, writing to an acquaintance to [202/203] remind her that the brooch she has sent to Lucinda is clearly not a match for the £10 she herself spent (so she says) on the friend: 'of course you can deduct the brooch if you please' (65). Lord George, a simple brute who can pass as 'interesting' in this society, is equally vulgar, equally proud of having no illusions: 'When you come to this kind of work, promises don't go for much. I don't know that they ever do. What is a broken promise?' (63). When these two slither away, Mr. Emilius comes gliding in, and he makes the other two look like innocents. In such a world, one either adapts, goes grimly mad like Lucinda, or else, like Lizzie Eustace, is protected by a certain vague innocence. Lizzie wades through this swamp without much caution or sense, but she avoids getting in over her head—usually.
It really does little good to turn away from Mrs. Carbuncle, who is, as Melmotte was not, a kind of essence of society. Everywhere we look we see the same fluidity, the same impotence of the old values, the same crass thought and language triumphant. Characteristic Trollopean figures appear in this novel, but they are now very much altered. The crusty old Tory and his colourful ranting against the degeneracy of the age, for instance, is now reduced to this: 'Girls make monsters of themselves, and I'm told the men like it;—going about with unclean, frowzy structures on their head, enough to make a dog sick' (34). Mr. Harding's nearest descendant is gentle Lord Fawn: 'He was weak, and foolish, and, in many respects, ignorant,—but he was a gentleman' (59). But, even as a gentleman, he is nearly an idiot, cast adrift in this environment. Later in the series (in Phineas Redux) he really is driven mad by a world he cannot understand. His mother is equally lost. Talking to her married daughter, she mentions the importance of love. 'Laws, mamma, how antediluvian you are!' says Mrs. Hittaway, who goes on to explain the new order of things. Lady Fawn is terribly shocked but finds that 'she could not disbelieve it all, and throw herself back upon her faith in virtue, constancy, and honesty' (60). Such qualities will no longer support even the righteous; they are nowhere to be found. Certainly not in the hero, Frank Greystock. We might expect some patchiness in any of Trollope's deliberately unheroic heroes, but Greystock is far more than weak, and he does more than touch pitch lightly; he wallows in it. His marriage to the heroine at the end does little to alter the novel's sombre tone. The heroine is almost forgotten, in fact, and Frank, who simply 'intended [203/204] to get on in the world, and believed that happiness was to be achieved by success' (4), makes the mistake of coming into contact with the world. No sort of balance is possible, clearly, between the public and private self.
The most useful characteristics for survival are, first, strength, and, second, acting ability. Almost all the people in the novel are actors. Mr. Emilius is widely regarded as the best since Mrs. Siddons (36), but the others are not far behind. Those who cannot act are lost. Miss Macnulty is 'strangely deficient' in this talent, unable to leave the narrow limits of truth either in action or speech. As a consequence, Lizzie says, 'she was unfit even for the poor condition of life which she pretended to fill' (79). Lucinda Roanoke similarly is unable 'to smile and be pleasant to people whom she could not like' (39), and is destroyed for this lack of talent.
All the people who can act, however, act constantly, until they build a deliberately illusory world and imagine that they are indeed in yet another sort of fiction. Like the diamonds themselves, their art is an attempt to create value out of nothingness. Art is used as it is in Our Mutual Friend: rouge on a death's head. In The Last Chronicle art is generally seen also as a disguise, but it covers the benignity of nature. Here, as Lucinda Roanoke says of the play they all attend,16 'I daresay the play may be very bad . . . but it can hardly be so bad as real life' (52). Art is often established in such desperation. Lizzie reconstructs a letter for Lord Fawn, knowing he probably will not believe the revised date, but then 'she hardly ever expected to be really believed by anybody' (73). Nobody suspends disbelief and the dupers hardly expect to dupe, but it still seems better to keep the bad play going than to admit the reality it tries to camouflage.
Lizzie is, of course, the most accomplished of these unconvincing stage-players. She can even produce effects that are momentarily dazzling to the uninitiated, wringing pity from police officers and magistrates: she gestures so brilliantly at the trial, throwing her clasped hands toward the bench, that 'from that moment the magistrate was altogether on her side,—and so were the public' (74). In acting, the narrator stresses, she was simply 'perfect' (61); not so good in real life, in fact not good at all, giving off a scent of unreality, but then, actual parts are so seldom rewarding. They are also [204/205] seldom called for in this novel, and Lizzie has perhaps done well to devote her energies to acquiring thespian abilities. Some think her the wittiest woman in England, and it has taken great effort and even intelligence to achieve that sort of image. The narrator states several times that her intelligence was in its way very strong. She appears so stupid, then, only because the demands of her role are so all-consuming as to leave her no time for reality. She has a few poignant moments where she senses the truth—'I would fain marry some one. To be as I have been for the last two years is not a happy condition' (62)—and one brief day hunting when she dips into reality and finds great pleasure. Generally, however, she sticks to her acting. 'The guiding motive of her conduct,' we are told, 'was the desire to make things seem to be other than they were' (19). Rather like Emma Woodhouse, she has the artist's desire to 'make things seem to be other.' Art here is debased from that practised in Highbury, of course, and Emma's venial attempts to improve Harriet Smith by painting her a little taller than she is are, in Lizzie's case, intensified to inelegant lies. Still, the impulse is the same. Sensing the great defects of the real world, Lizzie tries to improve it, make it more alive and more exciting.
For her great energy—'I suppose though that nothing would ever really tire Lady Eustace' (76)—and for her creative zeal she deserves and is granted our respect, the same sort of respect we grant to other morally deficient but artistically active characters: Emma, Mr. Pecksniff, or, more exactly in this case, Becky Sharp.17 There are moments when Lizzie sounds very much like Becky, when she abuses the virtuous heroine, for instance—'that little wizened thing who gave you the ring—that prim morsel of feminine propriety' (31)—or when she acts her domestic role in front of Lady Fawn: 'Of all things that which I most desire now . . . is to know you and the dear girls,—and to be loved by you all' (9). The echoes of Becky's seduction of Jos—'How I should like to see India!'—cling round the early scenes with Lord Fawn, and we can hear Becky too in Lizzie's fierce expression of her real opinion of the Fawn's family circle: 'nasty, stupid, dull, puritanical drones' (9). She claims that 'it is not my plan to be tame' (15) and decides to continue to battle [205/206] for Lord Fawn just because the odiously respectable Fawn ladies oppose her. In thus making war on convention and shallow respectability, Lizzie is sustained by the strong rebellious energy that had fed Becky Sharp. The differences between them, in fact, are most apparent not in the characters but in the worlds they inhabit. Becky Sharp can always, even at the end, count on this rebellious appeal; she always has some satiric opportunity. But Lizzie has none, for the conventional virtue of the Fawns is really not a dominant force and there is finally nothing to satirize. Incoherence is not susceptible to correction. Society in Vanity Fair at least maintained the pretence of consistent standards, a pretence that could be attacked, but even that consistency is lost in the general cynicism of this novel. There is no clear enemy for satire, and Lizzie's rebellious instincts are frittered away in the pointless effort to save the diamonds.
Her inner life is made as empty as are her attempts at satiric rebellion in public. Lizzie's progress represents a grotesque trivialization of the search for unity and balance conducted throughout the whole series. Faced with an utterly materialistic world, she conceives 'a grand idea of surrendering herself and all her possessions to a great passion' (5). She is 'alive to the romance of the thing' (5), to the romance of any tawdry scheme she can substitute for the drab and dull viciousness about her. Such substitutes are so disconnected from reality as to be nearly absurd, a form of desperate self-deception. She in truth dislikes music but says and thinks that she dotes on it; she even imagines that she has read all of Queen Mab. This paltry, thin romance is the best thing she can construct out of the materials at hand. It is a ludicrous compensation, but no one else can do much better. Faced with monotonous and lonely scenery, as Lizzie is, one might as well speak of it as a 'rock-bound shore' (21). Even if the rocks are slimy and uncomfortable, we must grant some admiration, considering the circumstances, to her attempt to strike poetic attitudes there and muse on Shelley's lines: 'Instinct with inexpressible beauty and grace, / Each stain of earthliness / Had passed away, it reassumed / Its native dignity, and stood Immortal amid ruin' (21). The narrator sarcastically suggests that such lines were written expressly for such poor, starved, uncritical spirits as Lizzie's; 'which was instinct with beauty,—the stain or the soul, she did not stop to inquire, and may be excused for not understanding.' She tries hard to be moved. Still, she cannot but see, in a very [206/207] funny flash of insight, that poetry and life are, in the end, difficult to reconcile: 'She liked the idea of ruin almost as well as that of the immortality, and the stains quite as well as the purity. As immortality must come, and as stains were instinct with grace, why be afraid of ruin? But then, if people go wrong,—at least women,—they are not asked out any where!' (21). Unity is impossible; 'poetry was what her very soul craved;—poetry, together with houses, champagne, jewels, and admiration' (68). Lizzie holds on grimly to her crazy romance, trying hard for some sort of reconciliation. She switches to Byron, finding him more adaptable than Shelley and also 'more intelligible' (26). What she wants, she decides, is a Corsair—with a coach and an assured income. But the outside world refuses to be brought into contact with any kind of romance, and Lizzie's continued attempts to combine the two are unfailingly amusing: she tries to defend her silence to Camperdown by citing Sir Walter Scott's refusal to tell whether he wrote the novels (72) and exclaims to Lord Fawn that 'nobody ever heard of anything so mean, either in novels or in real life' (73). Such incorporations of the power of literature into life are the best she can do. Lord George de Bruce Carruthers is not only no Corsair; he doesn't even have material value. Lizzie's pathetic attempt at creating this impossible union of self and society, romance and fact, means that she is really competent in neither world and thus vulnerable to such a one as Emilius. She sees that he is a liar, but, like the play, lies are better than truth; they are the closest things to poetry she can find. 'She liked lies, thinking them to be more beautiful than truth' (79), and therefore opens her heart to the 'dash of poetry' (73) she thinks she spots in Emilius.
She stays afloat finally by sheer determination. The narrator is quick to demand our respect for that strength and to keep us throughout surprisingly close to Lizzie. Most of the absolute judgements against her come very early, in the first chapter in fact. After that, her strong presence and the dominant focus on her, as well as some artful narration, draw us toward her. Even when detailing her faults, the narrator does so jokingly, defusing the force of the moral commentary: 'She had never sacrificed her beauty to a lover,—she had never sacrificed anything to anybody,—nor did she drink. It would be difficult, perhaps, to say anything else in her favour; and yet Lord Fawn was quite content to marry her' (9). The real point here is Lord Fawn's comic stupidity, not Lizzie's immorality. [207/208] The humorous context thus provides a way of seeming to grant moral objections to Lizzie while simultaneously brushing them aside. There are also many reflective passages of the 'who-does-not-know-the-terrible-feeling . . .' sort (ch. 37, for example) which ask us specifically to share Lizzie's position.
For she is indeed the heroine of the novel, connected firmly not only to us but to the world about her. At one point Lizzie expresses to Frank great admiration for 'The Holy Grail.' While Trollope is making some comment on the romantic distance he attributes to Tennyson's subject, he is also using the poem to support his own theme. The Idylls also presents a world hopelessly divided between spirit and flesh, meaning and act. Both are worlds so ruined that almost no one even understands what has been lost. Lizzie, like Guinevere, does not understand; she does not even understand Arthur's clear explanation of the misunderstanding, preferring, as Frank points out, to side with the Queen.
This preference is not hers alone: 'Your useful, practical man, who attends vestries, and sits at Boards, and measures out his gifts to others by the ounce, never has any heart' (19). This is not Glencora talking about Mr. Palliser, but it might be. The novel still is, in its way, about Glencora and her struggles. Mrs. Carbuncle ironically uses Glencora and her husband as proof of the emptiness of the world she lives in: 'After all, what does love signify? How much real love do we ever see among married people? Does Lady Glencora Palliser really love her husband, who thinks of nothing in the world but putting taxes on and off?' (67). Lizzie is Glencora reduced to a fish-and-chips level. Glencora senses their kinship in rebellion and energy, rushing over to give her support and countenance to Lady Eustace. Lizzie, in turn, recognizes a sister, calls her ally her 'beau-ideal of what a woman should be,' admiring especially her 'dash of romance' (62). Glencora is quick to strip off the idealization, however, telling Lizzie that her own state is not so very different after all:
'You have never been left desolate. You have a husband and friends.' 'A husband that wants to put five farthings into a penny! All is not gold that glistens, Lady Eustace.' (54)
Glencora even claims to be 'envious' (47) of Lizzie's greater freedom to act. But neither need envy the other's freedom, since they are both caught together. [208/209]
Both women are used finally to feed the world's desire for amusement. They are so harmless they cannot even shock but are valued only as curiosities. Lizzie's adventures, all agree, 'had been a godsend in the way of amusing the duke' (47). But Providence is not so kind to Glencora and Lizzie as to those they entertain. Mr. Dove points out how common is their frustration and their misdirection of energies. Lizzie uses all her wit and spirit in the fruitless chase after a 'bauble,' just as the best men, he says, use all their ingenuity and courage pursuing some hollow position like a vacant Lord Chancellorship (72). Lizzie is a judgement on the world; there is no one to pass judgement on her. In a curious last chapter,18 a party is assembled at Matching Priory to act as a chorus and give the final argument on her career. The ailing Duke, the unscrupulous Mr. Bott, Glencora and her husband united in a hostile truce: all these suggest an absurd, loveless world as effectively as the monsters Lizzie had gathered together in Scotland. They are equally unable to understand her; all the standards are gone. Plantagenet Palliser wants simply to avoid thinking of her; horrors are more safely confined at Madame Tussaud's. Mr. Bonteen's perfunctory comment on the trial—'It was a most unworthy conclusion to such a plot'—is about all that can be said. There is no resolution possible. Lord Chiltern provides a stop without a conclusion, banging his cue-stick on the floor and shouting that he is 'sick' of the subject. This novel is a self-consuming artifact, even a self-condemning one, with a vengeance.
The unresolved world having been thus set before us, we are sent back to the Phineas novel, as the hero gives it one more try, this time in earnest. Phineas's life in Ireland, necessary as it has been, has also seemed 'vapid and flavourless' (6); 'his very soul had sighed for the lost glories of Westminster and Downing Street' (1). Obscurity is not for him, nor can he realize himself in nature, which seems 'painfully inspid' precisely because it is 'safe' (1). Longing to find again his run of luck and to locate for himself a recognizable place in society, he plunges back into the world. He finds that now he must compete for a seat in the horrible rough and tumble of Tankerville: 'Loughton and Loughshane were gone, with so many other comfortable things of old days' (4). Things are changed [209/210] indeed. Political life and social life as well are held together, if at all, by schemes, power plays, most of all by chance. The action starts with the news of the Conservatives sponsoring a bill to disestablish the Church, a piece of absurdity that sets the tone for the entire novel.
Phineas Redux is a story of rejuvenation, but the major emphasis is on loss. One gives up so much in trying for an accommodation which, even when it comes, provides so much less than it had promised. Even worse, one arrives at accommodation not through a coherent or necessary process but through a series of accidental batterings, escapes, traps. Recovery seems finally allowed by the general indifference of things, not by their comic disposition. The story is, then, perhaps less one of attaining balance than of creating a self against great odds. Society is now not a recipient of personality, providing a setting in which the self can grow, be recognized, and receive confirmation. It is an enemy, out to destroy. The private life is never adequately co-ordinated with the public life; they meet only in violent and unnatural junction in the pages of the People's Banner or in a monstrous public trial.
By leaving behind the safety of the pastoral, Phineas is taking a far greater risk than he imagines. He is shocked by the absence of coherence he finds, not only in his own trial but in the earlier bribery trial of his Tankerville opponent, Mr. Browborough. At this event, 'the only man treated with severity was poor Phineas Finn,' who is perfectly innocent, while the manifestly guilty Browborough is made a hero (44). And the trial is conducted by a government controlled by Phineas's own party. Phineas is outraged, but when he turns to Mr. Gresham or even Mr. Monk for sympathy, he finds only tired justification. Lady Laura alone offers him sympathy, and her motives, he realizes, are hardly disinterested (44). The novel is dominated by Phineas's sense of injustice and his baffled fury at finding others so insensitive on the point. Where are his friends? Where is the previous coherence that had recognized his virtue and rewarded him with all that good luck?
He does at first seem to float right back into his old luck. He loses the election but is seated after a scrutiny. 'I never knew a fellow with such luck as yours,' says Barrington Erle (13). Phineas appears also to be facing a dilemma on disestablishment as crushing as that on the Irish Land Tenant Bill, but the difficulties melt away when he sees that he can support the measure and still vote against the man. Even being missed by the bullet from Kennedy's gun seems to [210/211] Lady Glencora to be yet another instance of the marvellous 'special protection' (25) Phineas is granted. But all this luck is so deceptive as to act finally as a trap. There are no protections now, and he must learn finally to rise above all chance.
The model for such heroic adjustment is Madame Max. In a novel which seems to complicate everything, even her previous adjustments are dissolved, but she stands finally as an indication to Phineas of the only way to live in the world. Her own education is accomplished in much more subtle ways, but she must face revelations as shattering as those that come on Phineas without having any of his compensation in the form of a visible grievance. Like Phineas, she is drawn to the top of the world, in her case not the political but the social world. The old Duke of Omnium takes her to his heart, and though she refuses to marry him, ironically having more social vision than the infatuated Duke, she yields to his great need for her to the extent of becoming his constant companion and nurse. These functions, she says, give her real fulfilment: 'It has done me good to think that I have in some small degree sacrificed myself' (17). But things are not this simple; Madame Goesler is not made for obedient and blind service. She cannot help seeing that the Duke's reputation for great and gracious appearance has been all too richly deserved, that he has capitalized on the split between public and private roles to parody genuine nobility. 'He had looked like a duke, and known how to set a high price on his own presence,' the narrator says, and he had also done less and consumed more than any other man of his time (24). The Duke's death is very touchingly presented. Even old Lady Hartletop, duck-like waddle and all, demonstrates what looks like real affection, and the Duke himself rises to something like self-awareness.
But the soft emotion is harshly extinguished by Madame Max's ruthlessly unsentimental examination other own feelings: 'She had persuaded herself that there had existed a warm friendship between them;—but of what nature could have been a friendship with one whom she had not known till he had been in his dotage? What words of the Duke's speaking had she ever heard with pleasure, except certain terms of affection which had been half mawkish and half senile?' (30). She sees that she has been victimized by a ludicrous romance with 'a sick and selfish old man.' She regards the whole affair as half a bribe from the Duchess and is forced to endure the raptures of vicious old Mr. Maule, a darker version of Deportment [211/212] Turveydrop: 'A great fortune had been entrusted to him [the Duke], and he knew that it was his duty to spend it. He did spend it, and all the world looked up to him. It must have been a great pleasure to you to know him so well' (30). Her 'sacrifice' thus desentimentalized, the Lily Dale trap of masochism avoided, Madame Goesler can establish a life that is truly mature. Her disillusionment is as harsh and bitter as Phineas's, in fact they are parallel, and the two move together to a love that lies outside appearances. Or rather, she moves there and pulls him after her. Experiencing before him the emptiness at the top, she is willing to penetrate into the filth for him. By journeying to Prague, bribing and spying for him, she rescues them both. She had earlier told Phineas when they had together encountered an annoyance in hunting, 'I've known you before this to be depressed by circumstances quite as distressing as these, and to be certain that all hope was over;—but yet you have recovered' (16). She now repeats this encouragement in harsher and much less hopeful terms: 'There is nothing, Mr. Finn, that a man should fear so much as some twist in his convictions arising from a personal accident to himself' (77). One must find a way to live beyond all accident, beyond all luck, good and bad. It is a solution that accepts only a limited reconciliation with the world, agreeing to live in it but not be of it. It is really a withdrawal from the central conflict, a personal triumph for Madame Goesler and Phineas Finn, but not a solution to the problem dominating the chronicle. They rather suggest that there is no solution.
But Phineas is glad enough even of this. He is thrown into a world that has with little overstatement been compared with that envisioned by Kafka.19 Suddenly his luck inexplicably changes. Even support he had received from Lady Laura, once a comfort, is now a curse, the most 'unfortunate' (37) thing in a career which now begins to look as unlucky as it had once seemed blessed. He is dogged by the mad Kennedy everywhere, and not just by Kennedy. Like the man in the science-fiction thriller who alone sees the monsters, he keeps screaming 'Look!' without any effect. When he complains about the almost incredible coldness and hostility of his party toward him, his friends offer the blandest explanations. It all comes, they say, from his independent stand on the Irish question. He must simply wait. Take it more quietly, they all say; don't show [212/213] your teeth (37). But the party has adopted within a year his exact position on the Irish issue, and the punishment in any case so far exceeds the crime of independence as to fill him with astonished rage. The unruffled acceptance he sees about him makes him feel freakish, seeing different things than other men see and reacting to them as an alien. He feels cut off from all support and, worse than that, unable to arouse anyone's sympathy for his plight.
The women, it is true, do spring to his aid, and a wonderful comic alliance seems to be forming: Lady Glencora, Marie, Lady Cantrip, the Duchess of St. Bungay. Such hilarious diversity and such wonderful schemes—bribe a judge, 'a carriage and pair of horses to every one of the jurors' wives' (54)—surely cannot fail. Imagining failure to such plans is like imagining an end to the Mad Tea-Party. But Phineas imagines just that, and so does the novel. The comic alliance succeeds in keeping Mr. Bonteen out but does nothing for Phineas. In fact, it is damaging to him, poisoning Bonteen further against the hero and making his chances for promotion much more remote than they were. Trollope uses comic expectations so skilfully here that, right to the end, one can hardly believe that Lady Glencora and her mates will not pronounce the trial nothing but a pack of cards, make some jokes, and invite everyone to Gatherum for two or three months.
The worst part of the trial for Phineas is really that this hopeful, communal perspective fails. Friends on the opposite side of the House murmur sympathetically that 'if Phineas Finn were not the murderer, he had been more ill-used by Fate than had been any man since Fate first began to be unjust' (52). Hardly any one other than Mrs. Bonteen is certain of his guilt; most are like these political opponents, cordially doubting but admitting that 'the evidence is strong. . .' He is simply abandoned. No one quite believes in evidence, since the world is clearly not rational, but no one disbelieves in it either, since reason is as good a false guide as any other to an irrational condition. Phineas is not 'ill-used by Fate,' as his kind friends would have it; he is ill-used by his kind friends, or rather by the fact that there is no 'Fate,' no principle of coherence. Perceiving this, as he is forced to, with agonizing directness, Phineas cannot understand how a man so apparently good as the Duke of St. Bungay can live in an absurd world calmly, accommodating himself smoothly to its chaos. St. Bungay 'had learned at last that all loyalty must be built on a basis of self-advantage' (5): [213/214] Phineas cannot understand why such insight has not been shattering. When Chaffanbrass makes clear to him that the trial has nothing to do with his innocence or guilt but with 'the truth of the evidence' (60) and that the accused can never shed much light on that, Phineas wants to scream. During the actual courtroom scenes Phineas almost disappears. He is seldom mentioned and we are told very little of what he feels. His absence is appropriate, of course, since he is, in terms of the trial, the least important man there. It is a trial of a coat, a key, and of words. It has as much reference to justice as Lear's trial of the footstool or, more precisely, the trial of the knave of hearts.
'Sentence first—verdict afterwards' applies here exactly. Phineas has already experienced the punishment in his alienation and is understandably not elated when the jury acquits him with a generous flourish: '"And we are of the opinion," said the foreman, "that Mr. Finn should not have been put upon his trial on such evidence as has been brought before us"' (67). Phineas knows by now that such comments on the sufficiency of 'evidence' have nothing to do with him. Nor can the friends who flock to congratulate him help him much. Mr. Monk's grim explanation of the distinction between the 'confidence' which he felt in his friend and the 'conviction' he could not hold (68), far from urging Phineas back into the social world, makes him experience all over again his terrible aloneness. As a result he is bitter and seeks comfort in the cynicism of the long view: 'What does it matter who sits in Parliament? The fight goes on just the same. The same falsehoods are acted. The same mock truths are spoken. The same wrong reasons are given' (68).
He is still alive, though, and must survive physically, so he 'comes round,' as his election agent says he will (71). He even shakes hands with the prosecutor and can think well of him for his manliness (74). But he is saved not so much by comedy as by his insignificance: 'Moons waxed and waned; children were born; marriages were contracted; and the hopes and fears of the little world around did not come to an end because Phineas Finn was not to be hung' (69). He is not so much rejuvenated as crudely resuscitated. He refuses to re-enter office, holding out for a time against the crass brutality of these men and their appallingly insensitive generosity. More important, he is holding out against luck itself, refusing any longer to be dominated by circumstances. The trial might just as well have ended one way as another, and he has learned from it. He [215/216] sees that the office 'was offered to me, not because I was thought to be fit for it, but because I had become wonderful by being brought near to a violent death!' (74). An acceptance of office would be an acceptance of impersonal luck again. He compares the party's offer to a rocking-horse given to him when a child for falling 'from the top of the house to the bottom without breaking my neck. The rocking-horse was very well then, but I don't care now to have one bestowed upon me for any such reason' (74). Such toys are those 'which look to be so very desirable in the shop-windows, but which give no satisfaction when they are brought home' (79). Phineas moves out of childhood and out of luck to the only life which can give satisfaction. He makes his stand against absurdity. Madame Max was, after all, the only one who really understood. Even his other lady friends wanted only to load the 'evidence'; Marie wanted to clear his name. Only Madame Max has not only understood but lived through Phineas's desolation. After that, agreeing to marry him is, as she says, a trifle: 'I couldn't refuse Mr. Finn a little thing like that' (79).
The strength of this union and the difficulty with which it is achieved are highlighted by Trollope's characteristically brilliant use of subplots. The Kennedy plot is still, as in Phineas Finn, cautionary, at least at first, but as the novel moves to a personal solution for Phineas, it develops a distinct impatience for Lady Laura's immersion in her grievances and isolation. Her condition is seen as less extreme, more common, and her continued bitterness thus seems a little like self-indulgence. She never really gets beyond herself, even when visiting Phineas in prison: 'Of all my troubles this,—to see you here,—is the heaviest' (55). Violet Chiltern finally expresses this impatience openly, telling Laura to exercise a little more self-control (51). The Kennedys no longer suggest what might occur but what very likely will, and Lady Laura's refusal even to try to live with indifference is certainly not admired.
On the other side there is a wonderfully idyllic love story, so undisturbed and essentially static that it seems to take place in another land. Gerard Maule and Adelaide Palliser slide together in a life that seems protected by a benign nature. It really is another world they inhabit, or at least it appears to be, since they ask for so little. Maule says that, unlike Finn, he is not ambitious: 'I've sense enough to know I can't do any good' (7). Much like the romance of Jane and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, the subplot ironically avoids all the problems of the main plot by its very unawareness that [215/216] such problems exist. Complexity seems to occur only to the complex. Ironic parallels are drawn throughout the novel between Phineas's tortured world and the gentle world of Harrington Hall. Ridiculous Tom Spooner of Spooner Hall, for instance, feels himself to be strongly affected by chance and circumstance: 'It makes one feel that he's marked out, you know' (53). But in this plot, characters are marked out only for easy happiness. Lady Glencora may tell Gerard that 'romance and poetry are for the most part lies' (76), but he, in his innocence, knows better.
The effect is tantalizing, slightly infuriating, not only to the reader, who senses the distance between this idyllic subplot and the major action, but to Lady Glencora herself, who has been pretty fully initiated, or so we would suppose. In the background of the novel but never out of mind are Plantagenet Palliser, now Duke of Omnium, and Glencora. She accuses her husband of living in an unreal, fixed world (31) and vows that she will herself change, 'lay down her mischief, and abandon her eccentricity' (26). Even if her husband does not understand the world, she does—she thinks. But the narrator knows better, ending the novel with the assurance that 'nothing will ever change the Duchess.' He thus prepares the way for the climactic episode of the series: the education of the Duke and Duchess in The Prime Minister.
His initiation is more open-ended, hers more decisive; but they are both asked to face the same frustration and the same emptiness. These two people, distinguished and important to begin with, gain even larger importance. They are the highest nobility; he becomes the leader of the world's greatest government, she the most prominent and powerful social figure. They advance to the very core of the world. And, like Phineas Finn, who made the same discovery from a much greater distance, they find nothing there. They become so great that they are forced to see their own insignificance. The novel formally projects a sense of flurried movement without substance, an empty centre. This is, after all, a novel about a prime minister, and it comes as something of a shock that the only issues that matter have to do with cork soles and bed linens.
Trollope's most important novel is also his least appreciated. A few modern critics write well about it,20 and Tolstoy, reading it [216/217] while writing Anna Karenina, called it a beautiful book' (quoted in Pope Hennessy 331). But for many it is still only 'a pretty dull book' (Pope Hennessy 329). Trollope's contemporaries certainly did not understand it, the Saturday Review going so far as to say it marked the novelist's 'decadence' (Anon. 381). Trollope himself seems to have been puzzled by the lack of appreciation for one of his finest novels. He insisted that the book was far better than the two more popular novels which followed, Is He Popenjoy? and The American Senator (Autobiography, p. 362). But he was pushed hard enough by the poor response to admit that the Lopez plot was 'bad.'24 The Lopez plot is anything but bad; Trollope seems clearly to be granting too much, as he often did, to the public taste he had no wish to transcend.
Most commentary on the novel is content to attack the view of politics it contains or to point out and exaggerate structural weaknesses. The novel's politics are frequently misread as Trollope's optimum definition of the function of the literal House of Commons. The failure of this view to distinguish art from life is obvious, but even more serious is the notion that Trollope or the novel somehow approved of the nullity discernible at the political hub. It is erroneously supposed that Trollope is advocating a do-nothing policy as a practical guide for all politicians.25
The point about the kinship of the plots, however, is much more real.26 The Lopez-Wharton plot runs along with the political plot, but the narrative ties are not very strong; they seem, in fact, to be almost accidental. The Duchess's interference in the Silverbridge election is a crucial episode, but there is no very apparent reason why Lopez is necessarily involved there. The relations between the plots are mostly formal and thematic, which may mean that 'unity' becomes some myth which can be fabricated by any critic willing to see resemblances and ignore obtrusive differences. Without entirely acquitting Trollope of the charge, however, one can still see not only the resemblances between the plots but their mutual interplay. Both, in the largest sense, are concerned with injury and [217/218] recuperation. Though one is a love story and the other a political story, the love story is also about politics and the political story about love. In any case, love and politics are, as I have argued before, inseparable throughout the chronicle, presenting to characters exactly the same dilemma. In each plot here there is a stable and conservative figure—Mr. Wharton in one plot, the Duke in the other—trying to understand and control the world with values and assumptions that are old-fashioned, perhaps outdated and invalid. Both plots also have rebels, Mr. Lopez (and Emily to a lesser extent) and Glencora, who push hard against these old standards. And in both plots the established figures and the rebels end up equally lost. If there is a spokesman for the general world of the novel, it is, ironically, Quintus Slide, the voice of the people: 'He went out and wrote another article about the Duchess. If a man was so unable to rule his affairs at home, he was certainly unfit to be Prime Minister' (57). With his customary lucid vulgarity, Slide makes the principle of unity in this novel clear. The question is one of governing, whether it be a nation, a party, a wife, or a daughter. That is the question, but there seem to be no satisfactory answers. As in Phineas Redux one is educated here in the fundamentals of incoherence. The dominant image is that of the coalition, a collection of men bound together by common loyalty to do a common task. But there are no bonds, and, even worse, there are no tasks. These, we are told, are the conditions of modern existence, and we must somehow or other accept them. One man, reputed 'to know the club-world very thoroughly,' raises the unanswerable rhetorical query with justifiable self-righteousness: 'If you turn out all the blackguards and all the dishonourable men, where will the club be?' (60)—or Parliament, one might say, or a family, or a marriage.
'But who is Lopez?' The question reverberates through the action of this plot. Is he or is he not English? wealthy? of good family? a gentleman? No one really knows the answer to the first three questions, but the novel begins by assuring us that, however shadowy his antecedents and his commercial position, 'it was admitted on all sides that Ferdinand Lopez was a "gentleman"' (1). So much for public opinion. We know immediately that the public is wrong; the narrator goes on to say how studiously Lopez works to appear natural. His art is the very opposite of the unconscious naturalness of Trollope's true gentlemen. 'He had not the faintest notion of the feelings of a gentleman' (58), the narrator finally [218/219] tells us bluntly, in case we had gone on accepting the belief echoed 'on all sides.' Lopez is the new man, rootless and insubstantial, whose mock fortune is produced by goods he never really buys with money he never really has. He has a great belief in advertising (54), for Trollope as for Carlyle the epitome of modern vacuity. Like Slope or Melmotte, Lopez tests the society to see if it can distinguish counterfeit from real. But he is more complex than his predecessors, testing not only the society but also the code he mocks but does sincerely want to adopt. He is struggling to find a way out of his emptiness, to discover a substance, and he thinks he can locate it in the code of the gentleman. All tests are failed—by society, Lopez, and the code.
He loses, ironically, because in his way he sees too clearly and acts on what he sees: 'Men, and women too, have become so dishonest that nobody is safe anywhere' (35). Unlike Slope, he is not trying to impress anything new on the society; he merely wants to discover society's values, adopt them, and receive just rewards for his intelligence and adaptability. He is thus really a kind of innocent, one who 'did not know that he was a villain' (54). Countless narrative explanations of Lopez's motives begin, 'He did not know. . . he did not understand.' When he approaches Lizzie Eustace with the mad idea that she is truly romantic and will fly with him to sunny Guatemala, we see how slight his chances have been, how little he has comprehended the grimness of the world: 'Mr. Lopez,' says Lizzie, 'I think you must be a fool' (54). Not that Lizzie is the villain, of course. The only villain is the emptiness. When Lopez becomes literally nothing—'the fragments of his body set identity at defiance' (61)—we see his last attempt to adapt, to become that which he sees about him.
So the senex, old Mr. Wharton, has been right all along. His protective, ugly bigotry, his narrow, pinched-in, joyless life is thrust at us, forced on us as exemplary. He is made to stand against youth and the values of the heart, the basic rhythms of comedy, and it is upsetting to find that we are to applaud rather than hiss. When he announces to Emily, 'You ought to feel that, as I have had a long experience in the world, my judgement about a young man might be trusted' (5), we hear the echoes of the voices of a thousand stage fathers, those enemies of fertility, trying to shelter the young. Mr. Wharton hears them too: 'there was growing on him a feeling that ultimately youth would as usual triumph over age' (9). He is told [219/220] that he is now outdated, that he is playing a stupid, feudal role: 'The stern parent who dooms his daughter to perpetual seclusion because she won't marry the man he likes, doesn't belong to this age' (13). We see what comes of this new age of youth and freedom. Wharton is out of date only because he is substantial, a man who acts and accomplishes, a gentleman. Gentlemen are as hard to find here, in public or in private life, as dodos.
Because his values have no currency, Wharton has no power to save his daughter from blindly liberating herself, diving into nothingness as if it were comic release. Emily finds out almost at once from her husband the conditions of her freedom: 'You are a child, my dear, and must allow me to dictate to you what you ought to think in such a matter as this' (30). Lopez is a simple tyrant, desiring not just obedience but grovelling submission. She soon sees all this, recognizes that Lopez is no gentleman, that the man picked out for her by her father, one Arthur Fletcher, indeed was: 'Ah,—that she should ever have been so blind, she who had given herself credit for seeing so much clearer than they who were her elders!' (39). She learns that in such a world the old are right if anyone is. One must not trust any appearance, any pleasant impulse. But it is not at all clear to her what she can do with this knowledge. She instinctively rebels, arguing that 'surely she could only think in accordance with her own experience and her own intelligence!' (30). Even that rebellion fails, however, to protect her from the consequences of her original rashness. Mrs. Sexty Parker, whose husband is being systematically ruined by Lopez, insists that Emily answer for her husband: 'I look to you to tell me what me and my children is to do. He's your husband, Mrs. Lopez' (55). Her husband's pathetic death acts ironically to free him but to make her feel even more responsible to account for things. Since accounting is really impossible, she can only glide toward that strong desire for punishment so common in Trollope's rebellious heroines. She is rescued from this trap, very roughly indeed, by her brother's harsh attacks on her for spoiling other people's fun with her drivelling gloom (72) and finally by Arthur Fletcher's command, delivered 'with much sternness,' that she marry him forthwith (79).
She is thus wrenched back into some sort of reconciliation, but the education has been violent and unaccommodated. Her experience with Lopez must be forgotten, not assimilated, and she must abandon her search for freedom and settle for protection. [220/221] Trollope's positive ending here, therefore, has implications as dark as those attending the release of Phineas Finn. That darkness is particularly emphasized by the Parkers, unusual figures in Trollope in that they are absolute and final victims. Sexty, once rich, will never again be prosperous, and his courageous wife is reduced to anticipating 'the one excitement of her life,' her journey to collect the weekly 40s. allowed to her by Mr. Wharton, whom she finally regards as 'a man appointed by Providence' (69). In such a world he is as good a symbol of providence as one can find. Heaven is now in a sadly reduced state, unable to reward, even to protect, able only to manage some first aid.
The victims in the main plot are greater in two senses: they are more important; their sufferings are deeper, less relieved. Natural desires seem to be so unnaturally blocked that at one point Glencora blurts out to her husband that he should have been the woman, she the man. With the quiet tenderness so typical of him now, the Duke does not deny that she is right but simply tries to comfort her (42). There is little real comfort for either of them, in private or in public life. The Duke is driven to expose his fragile, newly developed self in public, driven not only by friends but by what he conceives to be the voice of the people, the newspapers: 'When the newspapers told him that he was the only man for the occasion, how could he be justified in crediting himself in preference to them?' (8). Like Phineas and like Emily he will have to learn just how unreliable this public voice is. The only refuge is in crediting oneself. As Prime Minister, the Duke is, ironically, as much an invention of Mr. Slide as is the new pseudo-gentleman, Ferdinand Lopez. The Duke has spent all his life in politics, but he has steadily kept to those areas where genuine activity can at least be feigned, even if it is only the activity of squeezing five farthings into a penny. Now, however, he is lured into what appears to be real power, another raw innocent like Phineas or Lopez. The coalition he heads seems ideal for him; it rids itself of all absolutists, the Irish Home Rulers, the Philosophical Radicals, and so forth, and pulls together right-thinking gentlemen who have no special causes. But, though escaping destruction from the true believers, the coalition cannot avoid the non-believers. Faction comes not from ideological clash but from blind change, simple fluidity.
The Duke comes face to face with the emptiness encountered by others in this novel and in this series and, like them, finds himself [221/222] alone and unprotected. It is true that some of his problems are caused by his undeveloped private self, his being 'neither gregarious nor communicative' (27). He cannot effect a coalition of public duty and private sociability. But if he fails, the office itself fails more resoundingly. He is forced to come to grips with a reality of politics he had heard in slogans and even repeated: those governments are best which have no particular thing to do. Madame Max, being agreeable to Erle, says, 'there never really is anything special to be done;—is there, Mr. Erle?' He is delighted at her grasp of the essential point, exclaiming breathlessly, 'You understand it all better than anyone else that I ever knew' (11). Glencora says it is clear to her that a Prime Minister should confine himself to 'generalities about commerce, agriculture, peace, and general philanthropy' (56). Even the Duke himself, when confronted with Sir Orlando's notion of a thing to do, is forced to say, 'Things to be done offer themselves, I suppose, because they are in themselves desirable; not because it is desirable to have something to do' (20). But what things? When? It is clearly necessary, especially to the Duke, 'to have something to do,' but it is never clear how anything so indefinite as a 'thing' is ever done. Only Sir Orlando, with his four new warships, comes forth with a concrete thing to do, but his plan is too clearly cynical, a 'thing' for its own sake, and thus makes the Duke even more unhappy. No wonder that he turns to Lady Rosina and her cork soles. Cork soles are at least cork soles, and 'when she talked about cork soles she meant cork soles' (27).
Cork soles are about the only solidity occupying his life: 'in truth the hours went heavily with him as he sat alone in his study' (37). He has nothing to do and cannot discover just where he is or what he is doing there. He turns for support to his friends, as does Phineas, and finds there the same bland and aggravating insensitivity. The Duke of St. Bungay is ever ready to justify the void that seems so terrible to the Prime Minister. St. Bungay is even willing to apologize for Quintus Slide, whom he sees as a joke, not as a 'sign of the times' at all. He tries to console the Duke by telling him that a Prime Minister should think of himself not as a leader but as a silent monitor whose main job is to be certain that no one else ruffles the calm by trying to do something. The best man for such a job, he says, is 'cautious but never timid, bold but never venturesome; he should have a good digestion, genial manners, and, above all, a thick skin' (41). These sound like qualifications for a [222/223] genteel museum guard, and St. Bungay doles out comforts as barbed as those given to Job. He suggests over and over that the Prime Minister smilingly accommodate himself to the emptiness. No one dares tell him, as they do Phineas, not to show his teeth, but the advice is the same. The Duke refuses to be guided by such counsel, but he can find little alternative except to fret, which he does constantly. His one attempt to give substance to his position and to himself comes when he grants the garter to Lord Earlybird, who actually deserves it. This bold departure from precedent is, however, almost as pathetic as Sir Orlando's warships; others look on it as merely eccentric. St. Bungay even argues that such attention to the merits of the case might, if continued, pose a serious threat to the whole British theory of government.
Constitutionally a man who must act, the Duke is frustrated because he is not only denied the opportunity to act but is shown that all action is meaningless. Still, even though he senses the futility of power, he refuses to give it up until he is forced to do so, not, appropriately, by a decisive defeat but by an inadequate, teasing majority. Nothing about his tenure has been decisive or even clear. But after his resignation he seems almost to vanish: 'There could be nothing for him now', he thinks, 'till the insipidity of life should gradually fade away into the grave' (72). Even the memory of having been Prime Minister is 'nothing to him' (73). Still, though deeply wounded, he evades full knowledge and is able, in the novel's last words, 'to look forward to a time when I may again perhaps be of some humble use' (80). He retains some illusions; he can always go back to jamming five farthings into a penny.
But Glencora comes out of her education with no such occupation awaiting her and with no illusions. Her last words in the novel are the last words we hear from her ever: 'I did like it in a way, and it makes me sad to think that the feeling can never come again . . . It is done and gone, and can never come back again' (80). She has seen more than her husband and cannot avoid the consequences of that knowledge. It simply crushes her. Her initial enthusiastic hope had been exactly that of her husband: to confirm her identity through positive and real action. She promises full support to him 'if you are going to do anything,—;to really do anything' (6). But her fight really runs parallel to his without quite joining it. They undergo similar but separate educations. 'She was essentially one of those women who are not contented to be known simply as the [223/224] wives of their husbands' (6), and is therefore out to establish her own identity, not his. She sees politics every bit as cynically as Erle as regards 'policy' and 'issues,' but she is not cynical about power. She images that she can even correct her husband's 'simple patriotism': 'The patriotism may remain, my dear, but not the simplicity' (6). But her sophistication is all make-believe. She strives eagerly, almost pathetically, for solidity, for definite position, asking even to be Mistress of the Robes. 'She, too, wished to be written of in memoirs, and to make a niche for herself in history' (28), but she finds that there is now no firm substance into which to carve niches. Phineas tells her sadly that 'the time has gone by for what one may call drawing-room influences,' and she is forced to reply with an assertion she knows full well to be false: 'The spirit of the world never changes' (28). This presumably sophisticated person is shown to be an innocent, imagining a compassion and coherence in the world that are nowhere present. As quixotic as her husband, like him and like Mr. Wharton she tries to assert the values and beliefs of an old stable world. When she recognizes that 'all the good times are going' (29), she senses too that her hopes will never be fulfilled. Like the Duke, she cannot even achieve anything as definite as failure. She never becomes the 'institution of granite' she had imagined, only, at best, a 'good sort of fellow,' supported 'in a dull, phlegmatic way' by those 'who ate the ices and drank the champagne' (37).
In her private life the misunderstandings are equally great and the reconciliations as unfulfilling. She tries over and over to explain to her husband that she needs an independent life. When he says that he recognizes her pure self-sacrifice, her one desire 'of seeing your husband a great man,' her honesty forces her to reply, 'And myself a great man's wife' (18). His answer indicates the gap between them: 'It is the same thing.' But of course it is not at all the same thing to Glencora. She must resist this sort of absorption, and in her resistance she causes her husband to fear that she, 'his wife the Duchess . . . was Prime Minister rather than he himself' (18). Her efforts at individuality strike him as rivalry; his inevitable failure in office seems to her a personal affront, and his grand old chivalric protection appears a guise for dominance (see ch. 51). With the best will in the world and with by now a love for one another as convincingly portrayed as any in the English novel, they can manage only a very imperfect union. Ironically, the similarity of their experiences [224/225] in nothingness drives them further apart. The Duke comes to understand very well what her sarcastic wit really means, and she comes to express herself more and more sharply. In the climactic quarrel over her interference in the Silverbridge election, she finally says that her rebellion is 'human nature, and you've got to put up with it' (32). The Duke smiles, kisses her, and goes his way, here as elsewhere, 'by no means satisfied' (32).
When her entertainments are cut off, 'it seemed to her that she was to be reduced to nothing' (42). She sees, even worse, that she had struggled for nothing, had never felt any triumph or sense of accomplishment. She had, she thinks, a more solid social place even as Lady Glencora than as 'Duchess of Omnium and the wife of the Prime Minister of England' (76). Nothing has come of nothing, and she cannot recover. 'As far at least as the outward show went,' she seems to rebound, but 'one or two who knew her, especially Mrs. Finn' know that she still carries about with her her grievances and her wounds (80). She does so until they kill her.
The final novel of the series, The Duke's Children, shows the Duke's attempts to understand her death and to live with its consequences. The chronicle ends with one last initiation story, the mellowest and most complex in the series. The Duke struggles to retrace Glencora's education and still find the strength to resist its terrible consequences. The immediate problem he has is announced in the novel's first sentence: 'No one, probably, ever felt himself to be more alone in the world than our old friend, the Duke of Omnium, when the Duchess died.' Glencora, 'who had been essentially human, had been a link between him and the world' (l). He must, in struggling to be less alone, forge some sort of new link with those about him. It is the old problem of balance, of reconciliation between self and community, ego and service, dealt with throughout the chronicle. Here, however, the problem is both more extreme and more internalized than anywhere else. The Duke must try to regain contact with the world through what he can still recognize of Glencora around him in his wilful and spirited children. But through them he also comes in contact with all his old fears and conflicts. He must, as John Hagan points out in an admirable study,27 relive the past through his children, trying to make [225/226] his peace with a wife he could never quite understand when she was alive. In the process, he will presumably be able to make peace with himself. He tries, then, to arrange his children's future around a model of his own past, but in doing so simply reactivates conflicts without at all solving them. Hagan complains that the novel only dramatizes the problem without resolving it, but such, it seems to me, is exactly Trollope's intention (18-20). The Duke must find some way to live without the solidity of either future plans or past history; the uncertain, fluid present is finally all there is. He must learn to live uncomfortably with the dark implications of the fact that 'nothing will ever be quite what it used to be' (35). The series thus concludes without a conclusion; the form is deliberately suspended. The Duke is forced to accept loss and isolation, a cold and comfortless accommodation.
Though the novel's primary emphasis is psychological, the Duke's struggle has important social and ethical dimensions. It is true that he has resigned from public life, leaving that emptiness for the time to Sir Timothy Beeswax, who is perfectly suited to lead, understanding as he does that the most successful statesman 'is he who does nothing' (21). Still, the Duke's attempt to bring the past and future into harmony with a set of values he holds dear is, in miniature, the basic social fight portrayed in all Trollope's novels. The Duke is out to see how many true gentlemen there are. He repeats over and over the great precepts of the aristocratic, chivalric code, but no one, including his children, seems to hear. His striving for continuity, therefore, is not merely personal; it is yet another test of the world's coherence. If the Duke cannot instruct his own children, cannot even make them understand what it is he is talking about, all hope for reconciliation is gone.
The major action of the novel is at once comic and ironic, 'happy' yet 'depressing,' said the Spectator.29 The movement toward accommodation, the working out of difficulties, represent the victory of one sort of union and, to the Duke at least, the defeat of another. He learns to live in the new world as best he can, but with it, as with the rebellious Glencora, he is 'by no means satisfied.' The Duke's Children has many apparent resemblances to Framley Parsonage: [226/227] the heroine in both novels awaits the approval of the hero's parent, thus confirming the power of that dominant figure and managing to include new life in the society without the necessity of displacing anyone. At least Lady Lufton is not displaced, but the Duke, for all the love and respect he receives, cannot help feeling abandoned. He never is any more fully integrated with this new world than he was with the government of England or his marriage. Renewal and disillusionment are mixed at the end, mirroring in formal irresolution the Duke's frustration in trying for full union.
The conflict is developed most intricately in a battle between different kinds of language. A search for appropriate speech is conducted, but, like everything else in this novel, it is not successfully concluded, though it may perhaps be fruitfully begun. There are scores of passages in which the pervasive battle between the old values and the new is mirrored in wildly contrasting forms of speech. Sir Timothy Beeswax at one point tells Silverbridge, then temporarily in the Conservative camp, that he, Beeswax, looks to 'the young conservative thoughtfulness and the truly British spirit of our springing aristocracy . . . for that reaction which I am sure will at last carry us safely over the rocks and shoals of communistic propensities' (70). Silverbridge's answer, in full, is, 'I shouldn't wonder if it did.' Political fustian, no doubt, but Sir Timothy's language is only a slight exaggeration of the mode of speech adopted habitually by the Duke himself. Though he is never dismissed contemptuously by his sons, his language comes from a world with which they have little contact. The contrast between his abstract vocabulary and long, beautiful periods and their colloquial and concrete speech is pointed and often very funny:
'Do you ever think what money is?' The Duke paused so long, collecting his own thoughts and thinking of his own words, that Gerald found himself obliged to answer. 'Cheques, and sovereigns, and bank-notes,' he replied with much hesitation. 'Money is the reward of labour,' said the Duke. (65)
When he tries to lecture Silverbridge about the moral dangers inherent in club life, a similar disastrous pause gives his eager son a chance to agree, 'You always see the same fellows' (26). The Duke makes memoranda on his sons' use of slang and vulgar expressions in letters; he tries everything to pass on to them the equipment for complex expressions of thought. They try with the best intentions [227/228] imaginable to please him, but their direct, experiential language has no way of connecting with his. The Duke's language is not so much useful for experience itself as for subtle and involved explanations of experience. 'You do not quite understand me, I fear' (25), he says in pitiable desperation. Their failure to understand seems to him a failure to comprehend any explanations, a mere unprotected immersion in chaos. His speech assumes a solid coherence that does not exist for them.
But there is perhaps a new form of language beginning, one initiated by Isabel Boncassen. Though she speaks with the same forthrightness and simplicity as Silverbridge, she has the capacity to make generalizations. These are rudimentary, it is true, but they are solid and assured. She knows that Dolly Longstaff is 'obtuse' (32), and says so. She sees also that most problems and even most falseness spring from linguistic confusion: men 'never mean what they say, because they don't understand the use of words' (33). Her new language suggests the opening of a new system of moral classification, one that abandons the instinctual basis so dear to the comedy of manners. The complex set of values and guides for behaviour which had grown up are sadly set aside, but in their place we can see a new code being formulated. All subtlety and in a way all delicacy are for the moment ignored in favour of the qualities necessary for all successful inaugurations: general honesty and absolute lucidity.
Even here, though, there are some concessions to the old system. The honesty, unlike the lucidity, is not absolute; the new language is not simply one of blunt truth-telling. Civilization is still respected, and those, like Major Tifto, who speak without restraint are severely criticized. Lady Mabel Grex's language is most instructive here. It is always 'true,' but it is so scalding that it cannot be finally admitted. Late in the novel she sets Silverbridge up for blistering verbal punishment by getting him to assert that he will never tell a courteous lie and then forcing him into one. Once she traps him, she can fire away: 'Time is but a poor consoler for a young woman who has to be married . . . In truth, Silverbridge, I have never loved you' (73). She sees restraint and courtesy in language as mere pious 'hypocrisy' (77). Given her situation, such a response is understandable, but it is also dangerous. And it indicates to us that the new speech, begun in bluntness, may move toward the complex indirectness it had once maintained: '"I want to marry [228/229] your daughter," said Silverbridge. Isabel had told him that he was downright, and in such a matter he had hardly as yet learned how to express himself with those paraphrases in which the world delights' (53). Not an unambiguous sentence, certainly, but it does suggest that the Duke's language is not altogether lost, that he is perhaps less alone than he thinks.
But as he sees it himself, his attempts to find links to the world through his children are pretty generally unsuccessful. And no wonder: he is asking them to re-enact and yet correct his own past. He wants them to carry on what he is, but, in another sense, he wants them to supply the romance and the integrated, rich life he has never found. Though his outward life was lived happily only 'among figures and official details,' 'romance . . . was always present to [his] imagination' (11). He wants submission and rebellion, and he can hardly expect both. His own lifelong failure to connect his public and private selves is simply confirmed. The diversification he finds should perhaps satisfy him, but of course it does not. In the end, the break with Glencora, the gap between the outward life of duty and the inward life of romance, cannot be healed by anything the children do. Nor can his values ever again apply in the same way. Both psychologically and socially the Duke must come to grips with the new times—and somehow with the old times, his past, as well.
His battles with and through his children are complex and confused. But in all of the battles he is concerned both with the way his sons replay his own past and with the way their future tends to confirm or repudiate his values. The first concern, with the past, is more psychological, tortured, and ambiguous; the second, with the future, is just as intense but a little simpler. Any associations with the past call up for the Duke problems that are insoluble and depressing; with the future, however, the children can, at least in part, be for him or against him. They either understand their duties or they do not, or so he thinks.
Lady Mary's love for Frank Tregear asks the Duke to recast his own past life and thus presents the most purely psychological of his dilemmas. Though agonizing, the problem is hardly submerged in his own mind at all. He sees Lady Mary quite clearly as Glencora (see ch. 2), Tregear as Burgo (3), and their love as 'a repetition of that romantic folly by which she [Glencora] had so nearly brought herself to shipwreck in her own early life' (5). The one fact he [229/230] cannot admit, however, is that the Duchess has encouraged the young people's love. It is very difficult for him to realize that Glencora has also wanted to replay and rearrange her own past. Therefore, he simply denies that she has ever had anything to do with Mary and Tregear and transfers his fear and anger to the innocent Marie: 'He struggled gallantly to acquit the memory of his wife. He could best do that by leaning with the full weight of his mind on the presumed iniquity of Mrs. Finn' (7). Meanwhile, he creates a triangle, introducing his own counterpart in the present drama, Lord Popplecourt, a man 'quite as insignificant in appearance' (24) and in every other quality as he had been. Popplecourt is a kind of old young man whose good looks are 'of that sort which recommend themselves to pastors and masters, to elders and betters' (34). He is an almost deliberate parody of the Duke, introduced perhaps through some unconscious wish to complete the desertion Glencora had threatened. But on another and contradictory level, he wishes to use Popplecourt to justify his own past, forcing Glencora (Mary) this time to make an even harder decision in favour of duty. If Mary will choose even the lifeless Popplecourt, the Duke will be in some measure reassured. But he is forced in the end to drink wine with the victorious Tregear. He manages this most difficult adjustment, but it provides unshakable evidence of his aloneness.
With his sons, especially with the eldest, Lord Silverbridge, the outcome is more hopeful and the psychology somewhat less strained. This time the Duke wants—or thinks he wants—a duplicate of himself. Though his own conflict between the romantic and the dutiful denies the possibility of a satisfactory duplicate and though he does not fully want one, he can hardly fail to find some echoes and then, along with his disappointments, at least some small satisfaction. The key problem with his sons is one of values. In all of their conversations the Duke feels unable to touch his boys and therefore believes that he is being abandoned. The sons sense his feeling, admiring and loving their father loyally, but inevitably from afar. 'I shall never be like my father' (16), Silverbridge says, but that is finally not so certain. As Gerald, the younger brother, says to an impertinent huntsman who asks if he's shot much, 'Not what you call very much. I'm not so old as you are, you know. Everything must have a beginning' (38). Gerald, as it happens, is an expert shot. Not much training is really required, even perhaps for [230/231] the courteous and responsible life the Duke advocates. Just so, Silverbridge is clearly educated in the course of the novel: 'All these little troubles, his experience in the "House," the necessity of snubbing Tifto, the choice of a wife, and his battle with Reginald Dobbes, were giving him by degrees age and flavour' (42). As he mellows and matures he moves closer to the position held by the Duke, though it may be that the Duke never fully sees this. Silverbridge has all along been protected from extremes by his fine gentlemanly instincts, especially by his natural modesty, his capacity for self-doubt. After the wildly enthusiastic reception of his inane speech in support of Tregear—'My friend Frank Tregear . . . is a very good fellow, and I hope you'll elect him' (55)—he goes home to bed thinking, 'perhaps, after all, I did make a fool of myself' (55). Very gently, it is hinted that with Silverbridge this last chronicle bends backward toward the beginning of the first one with the emergence of a new Mr. Harding.
Silverbridge's education in politics is, like the rest of his training, a process of returning to his sources. He imagines that he has developed into a sound and confirmed Conservative: 'What the deuce is a fellow to do? If a man has got political convictions of his own, of course, he must stick to them' (4). 'You see, sir,' he tells his father, 'a man's political opinion is a kind of thing he can't get rid of.' He listens with great attention to his father's patient counter-arguments, admits that 'there was a great deal in what his father had said,' but still insists, 'I could not call myself a Liberal.' 'Why not?' asks the Duke. 'Because I am a Conservative.' That almost stops even the former Prime Minister, but he returns to the attack, finally driving Silverbridge to the comic admission that he is probably a Conservative because 'I know that I am a fool' (7). That does stop the Duke. Silverbridge is sorry to hurt his father, but he claims, 'when a man does take up an opinion I don't see how he can help himself (14). Regarding convictions a little like a mysterious disease, Silverbridge guesses that the source of their misunderstanding might lie in a general sort of transformation: 'times are changed a little perhaps' (14). This is just what the Duke fears, that times are so changed that his sons are disloyal through a kind of unconscious moral idiocy.
But Silverbridge is saved by his fine instincts—'Sir Timothy is such a beast' (55)—and rightly drops convictions altogether. He amazes his father by the sensitivity he displays in understanding that Sir Timothy is using him only to annoy the Duke. The Duke [231/232] has thought so too, but 'it certainly had not occurred to him that Silverbridge would be astute enough to perceive the same thing' (67). His insight developed to this point, Silverbridge finds it easy to switch parties: 'After all it is not very important' (76). His vision and stability in this case have surpassed his father's. He has demonstrated an open and unembarrassed love, responding in this political reversal with a simple integration of private affection and public action that astounds his father. The Duke has been as loving, but only in secret: 'The father looked round the room furtively, and seeing that the door was shut, and that they were assuredly alone, he put out his hand and gently stroked the young man's hair. It was almost a caress' (26).
Silverbridge's education in love is much tougher, less integrated, than is his political training. His contact with Lady Mabel is harsh, and he only just manages to escape. But she does not. Remarkably, the novel makes us recognize the victims even of such a good-natured hero as Silverbridge. Lady Mabel sees more clearly than any other figure in Trollope just what a woman's lot is,30 and she is shut out more cruelly—perhaps for that very reason. It is as difficult for the novel to accommodate her unsentimental view of a woman's role as it is for Silverbridge to imagine himself married to one who 'would be his superior, and in some degree his master' (19). She is 'wiser,' 'more powerful' than he (19), and he therefore instinctively retreats. Lady Mabel thinks very pointedly about Sisyphus (53), but in the end she denies herself even that heroism: 'A girl unless she marries becomes nothing, as I have become nothing now' (77). Another Charlotte Lucas sacrificed, this time not because she is, like Charlotte, plain and mediocre but because she is superior.
Though we are never protected from Lady Mabel's bitter attacks on all sentimental, romantic assumptions, we are allowed to glimpse, in Isabel Boncassen, the saving idea that all superiority is not sacrificed. Isabel seems, like Mary Thorne, to be the new blood transfused into the old aristocracy, but she plays a part more complex than that. She looks at first to be almost dangerously free; she 'hardly seemed to be under control from the father' (31), going anywhere and doing what she liked. She even expresses the notion that rank is nonsense, that she can 'make a position for myself' (32). But [232/233] the last threatening anarchic slogans are uttered to the obtuse Dolly Longstaff and are clearly sarcastic. Everyone expects her to be like Mrs. Hurtle, but everyone is wrong. Even Silverbridge, hoping to make himself agreeable, asks her if she does not believe that all those conventional rules about men and women are 'absurd' (39). Her answer softly rebukes him and suggests her genuine, even conservative, solidity: 'As a progressive American, of course I am bound to think all conventional rules are an abomination' (39). It turns out that she is not really foreign at all. She alone seems to sense fully and exactly what it is the Duke is talking about. She therefore tests the social order, represented by the Duke, not by asking it to expand or change but by asking if it can recognize its own. The Duke tells Silverbridge that in marrying Isabel he is exercising an unlicensed, ignorant freedom, but Silverbridge understands something of how traditional and uneccentric his choice is, justifying it in the grand old terms: 'honour,' 'duty,' and 'nobility' (61). Isabel kindly asks Silverbridge to 'teach' her the full cultural richness supported by the Duke (72), but we see clearly enough who will be doing the teaching. She is the most pleasantly ironic American import in Trollope, and she demonstrates that the feelings that guided and supported the old gentlemanly code are, after all, not so moribund.
But the Duke is never fully reconciled. Because of the contradictory demands he is forced to make, any marriage, any failure to marry, would leave him equally stranded. He gives his consent to his children but cannot help lamenting openly, 'My opinion is to go for nothing,—in anything!' (71). But he summons courage to live with his children's futures. Though his 'hilarity' at the wedding is forced, he must 'remind himself as he stands at the altar-steps 'of all that he had suffered' (80). No cure is possible, but he does escape nothingness. He even plans at the end to return to office in Mr. Monk's ministry. He has learned to endure uncomfortably.
As the wedding party walks to the church at the novel's close, they pass by Matching's old Priory ruins, a gentle reminder to us of an earlier scene of half-decisive, ill-reconciled unfulfilment. In the first novel of the chronicle Glencora had walked here thinking of her own past, her present unhappiness, and her unsatisfied passion for Burgo Fitzgerald. In the last novel the Duke now suffers the same frustrating pain, right in the middle of a world that is going so well. [233/234]
Last modified 9 January 2019