Rebecca's Reviews > The Eustace Diamonds

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
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's review
Oct 14, 2009

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bookshelves: adult-fiction, british
Read in October, 2009

** spoiler alert ** 3 1/2 stars (They are my stars, they were given to me and I'm not giving them away. I don't care what Turtledove says.)

There were many moments while reading this book wherein I voiced to myself that Anthony Trollope was a genius (perhaps a bit of an overstatement). His fairly blatant commentary on the political and legal processes as well as the methodology and rationale behind betrothal and marriage were full of irony and humor.

The heroine, Lizzie Eustace, is so unlikable and yet I found myself hoping for her success in many instances (at which point I would recognize the indiscretion and renew my desire for her failure.) Unscrupulous Lizzie, who shares traits with Scarlet O'Hara or Becky Sharp, is an obvious foil to the pure and honest Lucy Morris.

Yet, I cannot believe it is coincidence that Lucy, Lizzie and Lucinda all share similar names. Lucinda doesn't want to marry whatever the circumstances. Lucy desires to marry despite the contrary situation which accompanies her engagement. And in between these two extremes lies (no pun intended) Lizzie, whose vacillation is based solely on how she will benefit.

What I found most striking as I read The Eustace Diamonds was Trollope's attitude (or society's reflection) of marriage.

Frank Greystock fortuitously misses the "opportunity" (better choice of word would be "pitfall") to become engaged to Lizzie and Lord Fawn arrives on time to luke-warmly ask (Why not? It's either her, or someone else!)for Lizzie's hand. Throughout the novel, marriages are set up with less than romantic notions of ideal partners.

Lizzie's feelings toward Lord Fawn:

"It came upon Lizzie at that moment, as by a flash of lightning... that she might be sure of Lord Fawn if she chose to take him. On Friday she might have been sure of Frank... But now she did not feel at all sure of Frank. Lord Fawn was... a poor peer,-but a peer, she thought, can't be altogether poor (Part I, p.70)."

"'Lady Fawn!' she said to herself. The name did not sound so well as that of Lady Eustace. But it is much to be a wife; and more to be a peeress (Part I, p.74)."

I especially chuckled at Lizzie's struggle with the decision of which letter to send to Lord Fawn. Either "As we have been engaged to marry each other, and as all our friends have been told, I think that the thing had better go on." or "I see through you and despise you thoroughly." (Part II, pp.257-8)

Lizzie's feelings toward Lord George:

After thinking that Lord George had stolen her diamonds, "were he to come to her and confess it all, telling his story in such a manner as to make her seem to be safe for the future, she would congratulate him and accept him at once as her own dear, expected Corsair (Part II, p.210)."

Lord George's feelings toward Lizzie:

"Lord George sat looking at her, and thinking whether he would make the plunge and ask her to be his wife,-with all her impediments and drawbacks about her... She was such a mass of deceit, that he was afraid of her...(Part II, p.221)"

Sir Griffin toward Lucinda Roanoke:

"He wanted her, and he meant to have her. 'It requires no more thinking with me, Lucinda...There's my hand;-will you have it?' 'I will,' said Lucinda, putting her hand into his. He no sooner felt her assurance than his mind misgave him that he had been precipitate, that he had been rash, and that she had taken advantage of him (Part II, p.15)."

Lucinda toward Griffin:

"'You have accepted him?' 'I supposed I was obliged. At any rate I did. You shall know...of all the people in the world I hate Sir Griffin Tewett the worst' (Part II, pp.15-16)."

Mr. Emilius towards Lizzie:

"A gentleman once, on ordering a mackerel for dinner, was told that a fresh mackerel would come to a shilling. He could have a stale mackerel for sixpence. 'Then bring me a stale mackerel,' said the gentleman. Mr. Emilius coveted fish, but was aware that his position did not justify him in expecting the best fish on the market (Part II, p. 240)."

Lizzie toward Mr. Emilius:

"She had never been made love to after this fashion before. She knew, or half knew, that the man was a scheming hypocrite, craving her money, and following her in the hour of her troubles, because he might then have the best chance of success. And yet she liked it, and approved his proceedings (Part II, p. 367)."

Even Frank fell into his betrothal to Lucy haphazardly, with pure love but with little forethought.

Trollope's emphasis on lackadaisical betrothals was often visually paralleled with the sport of hunting animals. Besides the fox hunts held in the country side, Lizzie herself is compared to animals, including a fox and a bird.

For example:

"The boy with none of the equipments of the skilled sportsman can make himself master of a wounded bird. Mr. Emilius was seeking her in the moment of her weakness, fearing that all chance of success might be over for him should she ever again recover the full use of her wings... She had been terribly mauled by the fowlers. She had been hit, so to say, on both wings, and hardly knew whether she would ever again be able to attempt a flight in public (Part II, p. 362)."

But Lizzie was the hunted AND the hunter. She was without empathy and amoral. She "would wish to do whatever would hurt [another:] most, -without hurting [her:]self (Part I, p. 215)."

"She liked lies, thinking them to be more beautiful than truth. To lie readily and cleverly, recklessly and yet successfully, was, according to the lessons which she had learned, a necessity in woman, and an added grace in man (Part II, p.367)."

The Eustace Diamonds is both easy to read, yet incredibly lengthy and I couldn't help but think that (like this book review) it needn't have been so long. But Anthony Trollope magnificently balances so many personalities and relationships in a humorous and ironic manner, I was able to look past the verbosity. (I hope you can look past mine.)

P.S. I also loved the side story of Mr. Palliser and the five-farthing bill!
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