2009: 46. The Prime Minister

“It is certainly of service to a man to know who were his grandfathers and who were his grandmothers if her entertain an ambition to move in the upper circles of society, and also of service to be able to speak of them as of persons who were themselves somebodies in their time.”

The Prime Minister, Anthony Trollope

I finally returned to the Palliser series* (and I cannot believe that it’s been more than a year since I read Phineas Redux - how time flies) and was so disappointed by the fifth novel that I am glad that I had previously read other Trollope.  If this was my first of his novels, it is pretty unlikely that I would have ever read another.  Where The Eustace Diamonds and Phineas Redux are soapy fun (in a staid Victorian way), this book is both dull and has a sort of reprehensible message (as well as total b.s. deus ex machina ending).  The novel has two plots that barely intertwine (despite Trollope’s efforts to weave them together).  The better (though duller) plot is about our old friend Plantagenet Palliser (now Duke of Omnium), who, when neither party can form a government, becomes Prime Minister as head of a coalition party.  Planty Pall is not suited for such a role - he was born to work the boring minutia of government (his life long dream is to introduce decimal coinage), not to lead, and despite the attempt of his headstrong wife, Lady Glencora to use her wealth and social skills to make the Duke a success, the novel shows how his government is ultimately a failure.  This is ok, if you have patience for a sort of boring story, which you might if you’ve read the first five books, and have some patience for the characters, which I do.  Although the introduction to the edition I read quite rightly pointed out that you cannot have a very interesting novel about politics that does not take a political position of any kind, I had enough residual fondness for the Pallisers to enjoy the tale for what it was, though it didn’t move any mountains.

The grim part is the second story, which is about a young lady named Emily Wharton, who marries against her father’s wishes to an adventurer named Ferdinand Lopez, and soon lives to regret it, as he is the basest cad.  Trollope is a skilled writer, in that he gets you to root for Emily and bemoan her fate - but the message, once you step back and think about it, is that you should marry people who are different from you and whose grandfather’s are not known (and god forbid you marry a part-Jew!).  It is totally gross that her father (and the good upstanding Englishman who always loved her) were correct and poor dumb Emily is punished for daring to marry outside her caste.  Lopez is a stereotype and has no sort of nuance to make the story anything but uncomfortable.  Such a shame, because I was loving the novels when the bad guys were scheming English ladies - not so much when they are lying parsimonious foreign scoundrels out to ruin good English ladis.

You may remember I was meh about Phineas Finn, loved The Eustace Diamonds, and enjoyed Phineas Redux - turns out the more sensational he writes ‘em the better I like them! I read Can You Forgive Her, but in my preblogging days, and remember thinking it was fine, but so, so dated (since the plot turns on whether a woman can be forgiven for breaking her engagement! Scandal!)

Date/Place Completed:  April 2009; D.C.

Categories: Fiction, Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017