Phineas Finn : the Irish member

by Anthony Trollope

Paper Book, 1982

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Available

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Publication

Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1982.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
2005, Blackstone Audiobooks, Read by Robert Whitfield

Phineas Finn, a handsome young Irishman, has just passed the bar when he is elected to Parliament from the Irish borough of Lochshane through the support of his father’s friend. His affable personality and charming good looks soon win him many influential friends in London society, among them Lady Laura Standish, daughter of the Earl of Brentford. Lady Laura decides that Phineas will be her own political exploit, and to that end she makes “promises on his behalf to various personages of high political standing, — to her father, to Mr. Monk, to the Duke of St. Bungay, and even to Mr. Milmay himself. She had thoroughly intended that Phineas Finn should be a political success …” (Ch 27)

And indeed, Phineas is a political success. He is promoted to a Government post in London and appears destined for political fortune — that is until a bill on Irish tenant right is introduced, and conscience threatens to interfere with political obligation. “Individual free-thinking was incompatible with the position of a member of the Government.” (Ch 43) Finn finds himself in the unenviable position wherein exercising free will may end his political career, but towing the party line stands to harm his very countrymen.

But, bah! enough of politics. The novel’s charm for me was in the doings and undoings of the female characters. When Phineas arrives to London, he is promised to Mary Jones in Ireland. Alas, both are penniless, and a political career must be handsomely financed — from this vantage point, Trollope launches his oft debated theme of marriage for love versus marriage for money. The first to fall for Phineas is his self-appointed political advisor, Lady Laura Standing. Surely she has the resources to finance his rise, but does she value her social position and wealth above the notion of romantic love? Within the social circles of Lady Laura and of London society, Phineas is also introduced to both Violet Effingham and Madame Max Goesler. Both are enormously wealthy and well positioned. Madame Max is the widow of an Austrian banker; she would love to “service” Phineas, politically and perhaps otherwise. Violet had been promised to Lady Laura’s brother, Lord Chiltern, but he may well have ill-behaved himself entirely out of her good graces. In any case, she has a most decided view of love and of husbands, and may be a very difficult catch. Hands down my favourite character in the novel, Violet, talking to her friend, Lady Laura, has this to say of love:

“I know, — or fancy that I know, — that so many men love me! But, after all, what sort of love is it? It is just as when you and I, when we see something nice in a shop, call it a dear duck of a thing, and tell somebody to go and buy it, let the price be ever so extravagant. I know my own position, Laura. I'm a dear duck of a thing …” (Ch 10)

And of husbands, Violet declares that the timing and the selection process is merely a matter of favour and convenience:

“I shall take the first that comes after I have quite made up my mind. You'll think it very horrible, but that is really what I shall do. After all, a husband is very much like a house or a horse. You don't take your house because it's the best house in the world, but because just then you want a house. You go and see a house, and if it's very nasty you don't take it. But if you think it will suit pretty well, and if you are tired of looking about for houses, you do take it. That's the way one buys one's horses, — and one's husbands." (Ch 10)

I am thoroughly taken with Trollope’s Palliser novels. I loved the Barsetshire series, too, but I think I favour this one even more! Trollope drives his drama with characters, and they are so perfectly drawn. With each novel, both Barsetshire and Palliser, I’ve latched on a to a favourite, and now keep myself entertained with the collection of Trollope creations which lives in my head. I must add that Robert Whitmore does a superb job of narration in this edition.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member puddleshark
In this, the second of the Palliser novels, we follow the career of Phineas Finn, a personable and handsome young Irishman with no strong convictions or clear direction in life, whose friends persuade him that to stand for Parliament would be a fine thing. This is sometimes described as one of Trollope's political novels, but in actual fact is a wonderful blend of the political and the personal, as we follow Phineas into Parliament and into English society, where he loses his flighty heart to a series of women, and falls into and out of all sorts of scrapes.

Set against the events leading up to the Reform Bill of 1867 in which voting rights were extended to a larger proportion of the British male population, and in which 'pocket boroughs' (constituencies controlled by local aristocrats) were abolished, there is a strong political content in the novel. A basic familiarity with British history of the period probably makes this more interesting to the reader.

Trollope has a calm, undemonstrative style, unlike the verbal pyrotechnics of Dickens, and the pace of his novels is best described as 'soothing'. Apart from one hair-raising hunting scene and another scene in which a character is rescued from attackers, there is very little action. But you don't read Trollope for fast-paced action, you read him for the charm of his characters.

One of the things that I love most about Anthony Trollope is his complex depiction of female characters. In 'Phineas Finn', three of the principal characters are strong-minded, intelligent women, who despite the restrictions placed upon them by society, nethertheless manage to initiate a great deal of the change within the novel. There is also a moving description of a 'prudent' marriage, made for money and position, gone horribly wrong, with dire consequences for the woman.

Note on the Oxford World's Classics 2008 paperback edition: well-printed with an attractive cover, but instead of a general wide-ranging introduction, contains an essay by Jacques Berthoud on 'Trollope The European'.
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LibraryThing member thorold
This is the point in the Palliser sequence where the politics start to get interesting in their own right, with a lightly-fictionalised version of the events surrounding the campaign for electoral reform in the late 1860s. In real life the 1867 Reform Act was passed (almost by accident) by a Tory government in an unholy alliance with the radical side of the Liberal party; in Trollope's version it's rather more elegantly contrived by a Liberal government, which then gets into a mess over Irish land reform (an issue Gladstone was to try to sort out a couple of years after this book appeared). Trollope of course has a lot of fun with the "turkeys voting for Christmas" aspect of reform: most of the MPs agitating for a wider franchise have themselves been elected by patronage or bribery, and many of them are manoeuvred into voting to abolish their own seats.

However, most people won't be reading this for the politics. The human story is interesting, but it's not Trollope on top of his form. The pacing at the beginning and end aren't quite right: the story takes rather too long to get going and the resolution of the plot in a couple of paragraphs at the end just seems like a cop-out. The balance between the English and Irish storylines doesn't quite work as it should, either. All the same, the treatment of Lady Laura and Madame Max is brilliant, whilst Mr Kennedy and Lords Chiltern and Brentford are all splendid examples of the Trollope stubborn male, in their various ways. Even Lady Glencora, in a couple of brief cameo appearances, makes a big impression. Phineas himself is rather a hard character to identify with, as he's meant to be: we never quite know what he really thinks, but then neither does he.

Probably the most interesting part of the novel for most people will be the examination of Lady Laura's marriage. Victorian novelists didn't very often venture into this sort of territory, so it's fascinating to see what Trollope makes of it, despite the limitations that the conventions of the time imposed. We know that it is bound to end unhappily for the woman (Trollope can't get out of it by making her pregnant, because he did that last time...), but it is interesting to see how he does lead the reader to question whether it is right for a husband to take his authority over his wife for granted, and even hints that observance of the Sabbath taken to excess might not be a good thing. (Of course, there's a bit of self-interest here: Trollope is losing business if ladies aren't allowed to read novels on Sundays!)
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Phineas Finn's father chose to send his son to London to train as a barrister rather than having him train in Ireland. Just as Phineas is ready to launch his career, he allows himself to be talked into standing for Parliament, against the advice of his elders, including his father, his law tutor, and his landlord. Since Phineas has no money, he ought to establish himself in his profession first so that he will have an income to support himself since members of Parliament don't receive a salary. Phineas's agreeable personality and his way with words contribute to his rapid rise, but his position is precarious.

Of all of the young men I have encountered so far in Trollope's novels, I like Phineas best. His occasional impetuousness leads him into trouble, as he fails to think through all of the potential consequences before he acts. However, he accepts responsibility for his choices and endures the consequences. Phineas is too scrupulous to make a good politician if that means voting for one's party against one's conscience. Trollope's portrayal of political power and influence seems as relevant to 21st century American politics as to Victorian Britain.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Phineas Finn is a young Irishman who decides to make his career in politics and takes the unusual step of obtaining a seat in Parliament without first building his career as a barrister. Parliamentary positions did not come with a salary; nevertheless, Phineas sets off for London sure that everything will work out. And because this is Trollope, it does. Phineas starts out rather naive, eventually finds his footing and earns respect by being “useful,” and becomes deeply involved in the central issues facing the British government in the mid-1860s.

At the same time, Phineas is also trying to find his place in society, and because he is such a dashing young man, he has no shortage of marital prospects. There’s “hometown honey” Mary Flood-Jones, his beautiful London contemporaries Laura Standish and Violet Effingham, and the wealthy and influential young widow, Madame Max Goesler. Phineas pursues or is pursued by them all, and is fickle as can be all the way to the end. Should one marry for love and stability? Or should one pursue ambitions of wealth or position in society? Is it possible to have both? Trollope explores each of these alternatives, which also provides an opportunity to showcase several quite different women.

The political aspects of this novel were rather dense at times. The women made this book enjoyable for me. For the first time in his career, Trollope gave his female characters more depth and was sympathetic to the difficulties women faced in Victorian society: the need to marry for financial security, the control men had over women’s lives, and the challenge of living independently when circumstances require it. I’m looking forward to continuing with this series.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Back for my second trip into the Palliser series: this one is much more politically-focused than the first, but without losing any of the human drama that Trollope always brings. Young Irishman Phineas Finn gets tossed into the deep end of parliamentary politics and must quickly learn to swim if he's going to navigate the political shoals. I enjoyed the complexity very much, and somehow I don't think we've seen the last of Mr. Finn ...… (more)
LibraryThing member pgchuis
Phineas Finn, son of an Irish doctor, is "elected" to Parliament and then appointed to a junior minister position. He falls for a series of women and has to decide how important his political independence matter to him when he disagrees with his party's policy on Irish tenants' rights. (Thankfully very little hunting in this one).

While I found Phineas a bit tame (he nearly runs into debt on a friend's behalf, but is bailed out by the friend's sister, we wonder if he will have an affair with the unhappily married Laura, but doesn't, he is tempted to be unfaithful to his Irish fiancee waiting for him at home, but resists), I liked many of the other characters. The story of the Kennedys' marriage was convincing and sad and I did enjoy Violet and her tormenting of her aunt. Helpful notes in this edition so that you understand what Trollope feels to be the "right" position on e.g. secret ballots. The ending was extremely abrupt...
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LibraryThing member BonnieJune54
Finn has more than his fair share of looks and charm but he is neither terribly good nor a complete rake. I found that refreshing. I found the political maneuvering interesting. I also liked how a marriage that seemed like a good idea could slowly and quietly become intolerable.

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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Phineas Finn is a middle class young Irish man who aspires to greatness in the British government. But as we all know, getting elected takes a bankroll and Phineas' modest background is not enough. But as a handsome man with significant charm, he looks to marry a rich woman so he can rise in the ranks of Parliament. I found this practical and mercenary view of marriage to be a little upsetting. I realize that we tolerate women playing the role of using beauty and charm to form an advantageous marriage, but when a man does this, it seems shallow and callous. Interesting!

This is the 2nd book in Trollope's Palliser series - not as enjoyable as the first, but beautifully narrated by Simon Vance - always a pleasure to listen to his voice.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
This is not Trollope's best novel. The first half of the book is unusually clunky. A wide array of characters are rapidly introduced in the first few chapters, with little indication of their later significance. (This is in direct contrast to The Small House at Allington, for example.) Trollope then seems to struggle with his chosen setting, the parliamentary role of Finn. But, by the second half of the book, Trollope is back on track, with nicely nuanced characters dealing with relationship issues that, although played out in a Victorian setting, still resonate today. Read as e-book May 2010.… (more)
LibraryThing member leslie.98
I found this second entry in Trollope's Palliser series a lot more interesting (and amusing) than the first book. Phineas' adventures as a Member of Parliament, while amusing (and at times very apt to today's political scene), didn't engross me as much as his romantic trials and tribulations. Perhaps that might change upon rereading, and this is a book I most likely will reread at some point.… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Audiobook..........In the big picture of literature I have read, "Phineas Finn" is probably more of a three star read, but I really like Trollope's ability to create characters who struggle with moral dilemmas and then lets the reader watch them mature over time. In this case, our "dear Finn", starts out as a young man who chooses the path of least resistance to reach an idealized goal....to be a Member of Parliament. He falters in Parliament and in love, yet discovers, almost to his own surprise, that he is actually an honorable, good fellow. I don't think I give anything away by saying things work out in the end. Along the way, the reader is treated to Trollope's view of the politics of the time, the
"Irish" issues, and as is always true, the author's perceptions of women. I love this stuff, but if you want excitement in your novels.....probably not a good selection. Think Dickens......
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
a story of politics. It deals with British parliament. Phineas Finn is a young Irish man, trained as a barrister, decides to bypass working in his career of training and go directly to politics though he lacks the money to support himself. Finn is a good looking man and generally likable though not very ambitious. He spends a great deal of time pursuing women of fortune. It explores compromise versus conviction and as a political novel, it is still relevant. Another interesting theme is women as property and the struggle of equality in marriage.… (more)
LibraryThing member charlie68
A novel about an Irish member of parliament in the 1860s, could've been written last week. I wish more MPs were like Mr. Finn.
LibraryThing member BeyondEdenRock
I fell in love with Can You Forgive Her, my first Trollope and my first Palliser novel, and when I had to leave that book behind I knew that if wouldn’t be too long before I stepped back into Trollope’s world with the next novel in this particular sequence. The fact that this was the novel where politics came to the fore worried me a little, but it wasn’t a problem; I was pulled right into the human story by the same storyteller I had come to love as I read that first book.

Phineas Finn himself was a charming, handsome, and eminently personable young Irishman. His parents had supported him when he moved to London to study to become a barrister. When he qualified his father, a country doctor, hoped that he would come home, that he would practice his profession, establish his own home, marry his childhood sweetheart, raise a family …. but Phineas had other ideas. He had an interest in politics, and a friends had suggested that he could become a member of parliament. Because in the days before parliamentary reform all that you needed were the needs of friends in high places who could offer a pocket borough.

There was one major drawback: he would be paid nothing as a member of parliament. But Phineas persuaded his father to support him for just a little longer, until he established himself and could either begin to practice the law or secure a lucrative government post. Doctor Finn gave way, because his wife and daughters were so thrilled at the prospect of what Phineas might achieve, and so, secretly, was he.

Success came easily to Phineas, thanks to his good locks his charm, and his straightforward, open and honest character. But he often ran into trouble, because it took him a long time to learn that the motivations of others were not so simple.

Lady Laura Standish was Phineas’ first mentor, and he fancied himself in love with her; she though chose to marry for the things that she thought she needed; money, influence, and social standing in the shape of Mr Robert Kennedy. But she was to learn that those were the wrong reasons, that she had married man who could had to rule everything and would brook no arguments. It was heart-breaking to watch the marriage fail, and to understand the terrible consequences that had for an intelligent and compassionate woman.

Violet Effingham; a lovely young heiress rich enough to remain single and independent if she wishes it, though that would come at quite a social cost. She was Laura’s closest friend and there was an understanding between her Laura’s brother, Lord Chiltern, but Violet was having doubts. Because he was short-tempered, thoughtless, and not inclined to see her point of view.

She was drawn to Phineas and he was drawn to her; but that upset her friend, her friend’s brother and her friend’s brother; and that was unfortunate, because it was his pocket borough that gave Phineas his seat in parliament ….

Trollope clearly understood with Violets reluctance to marry, and Laura’s regret that she did marry, and he draws both of them, and the friendship between them quite beautifully. I drew parallels with the two friends, one linked romantically with the other’s brother scenario in this book and the one in ‘Can You Forgive Her’. There were some similarities but there were far more differences, and I thought that the characters and relationships in this book were rather more subtly drawn.

I found the continuing friendship between Laura and Violet especially engaging.

While all of this was going on Phineas was finding that his conscience and his party’s politics or his sponsor’s interests were often at odds, and that the political world was very tricky indeed.

Trollope deploys all of his characters well, and there are plenty of events and incidents along the way to keep things interesting. I’ve pulled out a few strands, but in the book they are interwoven, and everything works together beautifully.

And then – when the story was simmering nicely, but I was wondering how it was going to fill such a big book – another intriguing woman character made her entrance. Madame Max Goesler was young widow, with a rather dubious past, but with more that enough money to assure her a place in society. In the hands of some authors she would have been a stereotype, but Trollope made her a wonderfully real woman; the was independent, was bright and she understood people very well indeed.

Drawing parallel’s with ‘Can You Forgive Her’ again, I could compare Madame Max’s role in this book with the role of the widow in that first book. And again the second book wins, with a story arc that is gentler and sits more naturally in the book as a whole.

I must come back to Phineas Finn though, because his story is the thread that holds the story together. Trollope does a wonderful job of having Phineas learn and grow as the story progresses, without losing any of the things that made him such an appealing character when the story began.

The story plays out beautifully.

I’ve already moved on to ‘The Eustace Diamonds’ and I’ m looking forward to picking up Phineas’s story again in ‘Phineas Redux’ ….
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I have a long history of attempting to read Anthony Trollope's "Phineas Finn" and this time I've finally done it. (I checked it out of the library three years ago with too many books to even start it before I ran out of renewals. After the mandatory 1 year wait period, I checked it out again with too many other books, only to get about 1/3 of the way through it before I had to return it. I actually purchased the book when I ran out of renewals for the third time and finished it... yay me!)

At any rate, I liked the first portion of the book a lot the first time I read it, but this time around all of the politics really dragged for me. I'm guessing it was more due to mood than the quality of the book. I did enjoy the relationships between the characters and Phineas' up and down fortunes as he wends his way through Parliament and his variety of loves.

Overall, this was a good read though the political discussions sometimes got a bit too heavy for me.
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LibraryThing member antiquary
I bought this as a more portable edition of the book. I have not yet read it, though I inherited a larger copy from my father years ago.
LibraryThing member stillatim
Honestly, so far I prefer Barchester to Parliament as far as Trollope's series go. This is probably a bit funnier, and the plot is certainly more impressive, but his style is much tamer and less interesting. There's very little of the authorial intrusion that makes the earlier Barsetshire novels so entertaining, and the writing in general is invisible. That's no mean feat, but I also miss the hyper-irony of Barchester Towers or even Doctor Thorne. Also, as with most authors, the longer his books get the less benefit you get from them. It moves nicely, but there are so many unnecessary sub-plots that I actually started to get annoyed. What is the point of Mr Quintus Slade and the Peoples' Banner? He shows up every now and then, he complains, Phineas doesn't like him, and we're left where we started. Same thing with the 'I signed another man's bill' sections; why bother putting it in there, when it was just going to be resolved so simply? None of the last second excitement of Framley Parsonage here; Phineas wakes up one day and the bill subplot is finished. Oh, the Victorian age. You would have had so many great novelists had you had a handful of great editors.… (more)
LibraryThing member ritaer
Phineas is a weak hero, but he comes through in the end. Tempted by early success in Parliament he comes to realize that he cannot make his living at it without surrendering independence of conscience. He is also tempted by marriage to a wealthy widow who would finance a Parilamentary career, but he returns to the sweet Irish girl at home.… (more)

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