Jon's Reviews > Phineas Redux

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope
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Mar 30, 09

Read the first half of this a month or so ago, then after a break, read the second half, which, I was glad to find out had less politics. Still, even the politics of the first half were pretty entertaining. Trollope is the world's champ at presenting our inner monologues, as we explain to ourselves and justify to our own satisfaction why we act the way we do, analyze for ourselves what we think of other people and why. And he does this from the omniscient author's point of view, for practically every character. Like gods, we watch each one watching all the others and sit back while they misunderstand each other, misinterpret situations, and generally cause each other problems. It's calming to watch politicians do this over issues you don't care about--the disestablishment of the Church of England, for example, or decimal coinage. I read this part while watching Obama's first run-ins with the Republicans in the House of Representatives, and it enabled me to have a little perspective. It would be a rare and fairly naive politician in Trollope's House of Commons who might actually deal with an issue on its merits: that aspect was always relevant, but far more important were personal animosities, webs of friendship and influence, party loyalty, needs of constituents, and fear of public ridicule or reprisal. I'm sure nothing has changed. It's a wonder anything ever gets done.

Then the second half dealt with a murder trial and a love triangle, using the same narrative techniques. Full of memorable characters, both attractive and repellent. And I learned that I wasn't quite a sensitive enough reader. I realized towards the end that I had admired one character more than Trollope wanted me to--I had accepted her explanation to herself of her mistakes and misdeeds and had readily forgiven her because she was pretty and romantic. I didn't realize until quite late that in Trollope's opinion she was simply selfish. Self-justifications I had taken straight he had intended ironically. These days nothing is worse than not getting it when somebody is being ironic, and I'm embarrassed for being taken in by her charm.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Nikki Wait a minute, Lizzie Eustace? Madame Max? Or who was it who took you in? I read this a couple of years ago and also watched the video series. I really should read The Duke's Children, the last of the Palliser novels, before I start on Barsetshire.

message 2: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon No, Lizzie was clearly a liar from the beginning, and Madame Max was (eventually) the true heroine; I was taken in by Lady Laura, with whom I had a lot of sympathy, since she recognized Phineas' good qualities and fell in love with him--but she was essentially wrapped up in her own self-interest, coupled with resentment over her blighted independence and misfortune, and (justly, I guess) she wound up a wealthy but lonely old maid nursing her ailing father. I'm told that Madame Max in the TV series is unforgettable.

Nikki Jon wrote: "No, Lizzie was clearly a liar from the beginning, and Madame Max was (eventually) the true heroine; I was taken in by Lady Laura, with whom I had a lot of sympathy, since she recognized Phineas' go..."

OK, of course having seen the tv series first (years ago, then watched again more recently), Lady Laura is played as a rather striking woman, but not what most would call pretty, indeed she was played by Anna Massey, who just never got the "pretty" parts even in her youth. (She played Jane Murdstone in a 1969 David Copperfield, for example; more recently Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park, Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest, etc. etc.) I always felt it was the finer part of Phineas Finn to have cared for her (as I believed he did, not just for the money) because they shared the interest in politics. It's hard for a modern woman to imagine what it must have been like to have such interests and no power except from behind the scenes (and using one's money and ability to give dinner parties!) to influence one's government. But Trollope helps.

message 4: by Snorri (new)

Snorri Sturluson I'm reminded of college days and what was legendarily the worst "tease" one English major could perpetrate on another. The scenario is that you are about to turn in a paper on which you have labored mightily and which contains what you hope is a brilliant and totally original insight into the motivation of character X in author Y's novel Z. You give the paper to your friend for a quick read and comment before it is handed in. (This is the friend who went to Evanston High School and - as you have worried since you were both freshmen - may actually be smarter than you.) Your friend gives the paper slowly back to you with a sympathetic yet pitying smile. In his most gentle, sincere, and convincing voice, he asks, "But didn't you realize that Y was being ironic?"

Nikki Oh, and by the way, Lady Laura wound up *worse* than an old maid for that time -- she was a divorcee.

Nikki Or at least as good as, I can't recall if it was a real divorce or just a legal separation. But socially I think they were about the same.

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