Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML: Though he rose to literary fame on the strength of his series of novels set in the fictional rural county of Barsetshire, Anthony Trollope's later works were more concerned with politics and social issues. The novel Phineas Finn is the second in Trollope's series known as the Palliser novels, which focus on political intrigue and relationships among members of Parliament. This volume focuses on Phineas Finn, an immigrant from Ireland who runs for Parliament and, to most everyone's surprise, is successful in his bid..
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
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.
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!)
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'.
I really loved the character of Phineas Finn. Generally, I think that Trollope writes female characters best, but with Phineas we get an overall good person who has some character flaws, but is genuine and grows throughout the novel. He is lucky and things generally work out for the best for him, but his luck seems to stem from people liking him and being willing to help which makes me not begrudge this lucky streak.
The novel also explores the plight of women in the upper classes, with their lack of power and control over their lives. There are four women to contrast here: Lady Laura, who chooses a rich but boring and controlling husband; Violet Effingham, who knows who she loves but holds out on marrying him because she doesn't trust him and is worried about losing her independence; Madame Goesler, a wealthy single woman who is slightly mysterious and seems to have found that her power lies in remaining single; and sweet Mary, Phineas's childhood sweetheart from Ireland. All of these women are either in love with Phineas or he is in love with them at some point in the novel.
Overall, this was another excellent novel as I've come to expect from Trollope. Though I loved Phineas, this won't be my favorite Trollope novel, though. It didn't have as many asides from Trollope and I missed those. My star rating will rate this novel in comparison to the other Trollope novels I've read and would be higher if I was comparing it to all the books I read.
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.
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...
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.
"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......
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.
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’ ….
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.
Phineas soon recovers and falls in love with Violet Effingham. However both Lady Laura and her father want Violet to marry Lord Brentford's estranged son, Lord Chiltern, who is also a fiend of Phineas. This proves awkward and hen Chiltern discovers Phineas’ feeling for Violet he challenges Phineas to a duel in Belgium.
Meamwhile, Lord Tulia decides to grant his Pariamentary seat to his brother and Finn is seemingly out of a job. However, as luck would have it, one night leaving the House, Finn walks out withy Robert Kennedy who is attacked by a man trying to kill him. Finn saves Kennedy & in gratitudw, Lord Brentford supports Finn as MP for the seat that he controls. (If all this is confusing, read up on pocket and rotten boroughs that were in exisence until the Reform Bill of 1867 eliminated them). Finn also makes the acquaintance of a charming, foreigner, Madame Max Goesler, a young and beautiful widow of a rich Jewish banker, who is attracted to the handsome Finn..
Finn’s career progresses and he is given a salaried position in government in the government in the office that handles the colonies in which he excels.. In the meantime, Lady Laura and Robert Kennedy’s marriage goes from bad to worse and she ends up leaving him and flees abroad where her husband has no legal rights over her.
Finn visits Ireland with Mr Joshua Monk, a leading Radical politician and a supporter of increased rights for Irish tenant farmers. Under Mr Monk's influence, Finn becomes radicalized and argues in support of a new tenant-right bill. When this happens, the government does not support it and Finn must choose between his loyalty to the government and his political convictions. He chooses the latter, resigns his government position and retires from politics.
With his political career in shambles, Finn seeks consolation from Madame Max. In an unexpected development, she offers him her hand and her wealth in marriage. Finn is greatly tempted, but finally returns to Ireland to marry his faithful, long-time sweetheart, Mary Flood Jones. As a parting reward for his hard work, his party obtains for him a comfortable living as a poor-law inspector in Cork at a salary of a thousand pounds a year.
Trollope’s portrait of politicians, their handlers and the tabloid journalism of its day is highly relatable to anyone who follows politics today. Finn’s position as an Irishman from the middle classes shows the difficulty at the time of a man without private means in breaking into politics and how the patronage of a wealth benefactor was useful, is not essential. 150 years after it was written, this novel still holds interest for modern day readers.