The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope

Paper Book, 1983




Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1983.


Despite a decreasing popularity throughout his career, Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) has become one of the most notable and respected English novelists of the Victorian Era. His penetrating novels on political, social and gender issues of his day have placed him among such nineteenth century literary icons as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Trollope penned 47 novels in his career, in addition to various short stories, travel books and biographies. A newfound interest in politics led to the publication of "The Prime Minister" in 1876, one of a group of novels sometimes called Trollope's parliamentary novels. This novel tells of the successes, troubles, and eventual failure of what the author calls the completed picture of a statesman, who should have "rank, and intellect, and parliamentary habits, by which to bind him to the service of his country . . . he should also have unblemished, unextinguishable, inexhaustible love of country" (from Trollope's Autobiography).… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
2012, Blackstone Audiobooks, Read by Simon Vance

When the Liberal government falls, the Duke of Omnium agrees, against both his wishes and his better judgment, to head up a Coalition government. But the Duke is “not by nature gregarious or communicative, and is therefore hardly fitted to be the
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head of a ministry." (27) What’s more, he is much too thin-skinned, and perceives all opposition to his rule to be a personal affront. The Duchess, on the other hand, is thrilled with both her husband’s and her own new position. Money being no object for the Pallisers, she is determined to use all of her social graces to rally supporters for her husband and his government. Thus she sets down a path of unending and often indiscriminate hospitality at both Matching Priory and Gatherum Castle, declaring that, “The new Prime Minister and the new Prime Minister's wife should entertain after a fashion that had never yet been known even among the nobility of England.” (5) But her actions distress the unwavering Duke, who finds there to be a “vulgarity” about the over-the-top hospitableness. Nonetheless, the charming Lady Glen is not to be dissuaded. Indeed, her political ambitions rival those of Lady Macbeth!

“He's Prime Minister, which is a great thing, and I begin to find myself filled to the full with political ambition. I feel myself to be a Lady Macbeth, prepared for the murder of any Duncan or any Daubeny who may stand in my lord's way. In the meantime, like Lady Macbeth herself, we must attend to the banqueting. Her lord appeared and misbehaved himself; my lord won't show himself at all, – which I think is worse." (11)

Running parallel to this main plot, is the story of Emily Wharton, the daughter of a wealthy barrister, and her disastrous marriage to Ferdinand Lopez. Her attraction to Lopez, much below her social station, is scandalous: “a man without a father, a foreigner, a black Portuguese nameless Jew.” (16) What’s worse is that in order to take up with Lopez, Emily has thrown over Arthur Fletcher, a well-bred young man she has known and loved since her childhood. Indeed, both the Fletcher and Wharton families have long expected their engagement. Alas, her father, fearing to lose her altogether, eventually succumbs to her marriage. But is immediately apparent that Lopez has an eye only for the purse of his father-in-law, his wife’s happiness of no concern to him whatever. A blackguard, a liar, a reckless speculator, a failed would-be political figure – eventually, Lopez will destroy himself. Emily’s shame is consummate, and understandably so. But
her wallowing becomes maudlin and her grief selfish (much to my annoyance); and at last she will be accused by he who still loves her that the time has come to sacrifice “ the luxury of your own woe.” (79)

I’ve read that critics consider The Prime Minister to be the weakest of Trollope’s Palliser novels, but I do not share the sentiment. I enjoyed this one just as much as the others and have found myself so taken with the series that I’ve read al of the novels consecutively. Now, with only the final one to go, I begin to miss the characters and their intendant stories of love, power, corruption, and diamonds already! As to Simon Vance, I cannot imagine that a narrator his equal exists.
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LibraryThing member TomVeal
Plantagenet Palliser, now come into his inheritance as Duke of Omnium, at last makes it to the top of the greasy pole. The government that he heads is an implausible Liberal-Conservative coalition, opposed only by "Mr. Daubeny", a Disraeli caricature, and his handful of (to the author's mind)
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insufferable Tories. With its massive majority, however, the Omnium ministry can get nothing done - primarily because Trollope, for all of his sentimental liberalism, can't think of anything that might need doing. We are treated to Chancellor of the Exchequer Finespun's efforts to reduce the duties on French wines, the Duke's hapless flirtation with decimal coinage and a subplot in which his Duchess naively promotes the political career of a reckless adventurer (another Disraeli look-alike). Eventually, the coalition breaks up over a preposterous dispute about an award of the Order of the Garter. The Duke is relieved to be out of office, and most readers will concur with him.

Nonetheless, if one closes one's eyes to the less than credible high politics, this novel has Trollope's typical virtues. No other author has so excelled at making the ordinary run of humanity vivid and fascinating. In real life, Planty Pall would have been a dull stick, Duchess Glencora a shallow, sexually frustrated meddler and Fernando Lopez a transparent fraud. On these pages, they command our interest.

The Prime Minister is the weakest of the Palliser series, which means that it is merely in the upper two percent of English literature.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
Plantaganet Palliser is persuaded to lead a coalition government and a woman called Emily Wharton marries a scoundrel called Ferdinand Lopez. The politics bits are not terribly interesting - mainly Palliser moaning about how mean people can be and worrying too much about what is written in the
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press about him. (By the way, I thought Quintus Slide had been exiled to America?) The Lopez sections are much more exciting (although coloured by Victorian attitudes to "foreigners" who might or might not be "Jews"). Lopez is definitely not a "gentleman", but it is not clear to me whether Trollope can imagine that a non-Englishman can possibly be a gentlemen. Overall a fairly sad book in a gently relentless way. I spent the last volume wishing Palliser would just shut up and resign and Emily would just get over herself and marry Arthur. Oddly, nothing terrible happens to Lord Fawn in this volume...
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LibraryThing member japaul22
Ahhhh. I love Trollope. Every time I start one of his books I wonder why I waited so long. This is the fifth in the Palliser series and spends a lot of time with my favorite, Lady Glencora Palliser (now Duchess) and Plantegenet Palliser (Duke of Omnium). The Duke of Omnium is made Prime Minister
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and the political part of the book revolves around this appointment and what he and Glencora can make of it.

The other story going on is of Emily Wharton, a young, wealthy woman who marries the man of her choice against her family's wishes. She chooses Ferdinand Lopez over the childhood friend who has been courting her his whole life, Arthur Fletcher. This choice leads to a disastrous and unhappy marriage. Emily's father has a good head on his shoulder and refuses to hand over his daughter's fortune to Lopez, who would certainly have lost it to gambling on the stock market. After Emily's husband dies, she is faced with another choice, whether to embrace happiness with Arthur who is still waiting patiently for her, or to wallow in her bad choices and punish herself for life.

I loved this installment in the series, though the story surrounding Emily's second chance at marriage dragged on a bit too long for my taste. I love Lady Glencora, though, so I was happy to read a book that she featured in so strongly. As always in Trollope, characters from previous novels appear - I was thrilled with Lady Eustace's appearance and with the slight reference to Frank and Mary Gresham who I loved in Doctor Thorne.
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LibraryThing member BeyondEdenRock
I didn’t mean to read ‘The Prime Minister’ quite so soon, or to rush through it quite so quickly, but I had to step back into Trollope’s world because there seemed to be so many old friends I wanted to see again, so many interesting new people to meet, so many intriguing things
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Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, was Prime Minister!

He headed a coalition government, and he had risen not so much as the result of his own charisma and ambition, more because there was no other candidate acceptable to all of the parties and willing to do the job. Now to rise to such a position is a great thing, but I feared for the new Prime Minister. He was too honest, too sensitive, and too unwilling to compromise his principles. Wonderful qualities in so many ways, but qualities you would want in a right-hand man, that would make you want to pick him for your team or hold him up as a role model; but not qualities that would make him a great leader of men.

The Duchess of Omnium – the erstwhile Lady Glencora Palliser – on the other hand was in her element. She would entertain, she would socialise, she would intrigue. She would play her part to the full, and she was in so many ways a far better politician that her husband. Never was it clearer that they loved each other but they would never quite understand each other.

It was lovely to watch them and to listen to them. And, maybe even better, were the conversations between the Duchess and her dearest friend Mrs Finn – the erstwhile Madame Max. That friendship is so well balanced and so well drawn.

The stories of the Duke and Duchess are set against – and entangled with – the stories of Ferdinand Lopez and Emily Wharton.

Ferdinand Lopez was a handsome adventurer of Portuguese-Jewish descent. It was clear from the start that he was to be the villain of the piece, and he plotted and schemed to acquire wealth and rise up through society. He was determined to secure the hand of Emily Wharton, the daughter of a wealthy and successful barrister. Mr Wharton was firmly set against the match, and determined that his daughter would only marry the son of an English gentleman. He favoured Emily’s childhood friend Arthur Fletcher, but Lopez had her heart.

The deadlock was broken when Lopez, apparently, saved the life of Emily’s brother, and her father reluctantly consented to the marriage.

It was then that Lopez’s campaign escalated. He used his wife to extract significant sums of money from his father-in-law to fund speculations, he exploited – and cheated his lower class business partner. He has some successes but he had more failures, and put more and more pressure on his wife to extract more funds from her father. His attempt to enter the House of Commons, to established him as an English gentleman, fails and Arthur Fletcher takes the seat. he blames everyone but himself.

That had consequence for the Duchess of Omnium – who had been charmed by Lopez and so gave him her support – and in turn for the Prime Minister, who could not, would not, allow his wife’s name – or his principles – to be compromised.

Mr Wharton realised that when he dismissed Lopez’s suit he had neglected to consider other things that would make him an unsuitable husband for his daughter. He did what he could, Emily knew that she had to accept the consequences of her decision; the arc of the relationship between father and daughter was one of my favourite things about this novel.

As Lopez made his determined rise and when he came tumbling down he did a great deal of damage. When both his business and his marriage collapsed around him he made the most dramatic of exits. The repercussions of his actions though would be felt for a long, long time.

His end was inevitable, but the gap that he left was huge, he was such a fascinating, charismatic character. It took the story a while to re-establish itself without him.

But there is a whole world in this story, and the world continues to turn. I loved watching so much going on, at Westminster, in the town, in the country. The scope of the story is vast, and the author’s command of it is magnificent.

There are themes that are horribly relevant today – the consequences of coalition government, and the role the fourth estate – represented here by Mr Quintus Slide …..

There are many things that can be said about this book. I have come to see that Trollope accepted society’s norms and believed that they would continue to hold sway; that he could draw a good villain but he clearly gave much more time to the great and the good; that he gave consideration to how a gentleman should live and behave, and of the consequences of their social position and above all of marriage for women ……

Above all this is a wonderfully rich human drama.

The world that Trollope has created in the Palliser novels and the people that live in it are so very, very real.

I find it easy to simply accept it for what it is, and I love spending time there.
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LibraryThing member lyzard
This fifth book in Anthony Trollope's "Palliser" series finds the Duke of Omnium the reluctant head of a coalition government. While in one respect he is the perfect man for the job, in that he is the one politician that both sides trust, in another he is the worst possible choice for prime
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minister, since the uneasy alliance requires someone who can work with all sorts of men (including those he dislikes and distrusts), and meld the coalition's disparate elements into a working government---and this is a task beyond the powers of the thin-skinned, high-principled Plantagenet. Lady Glencora, though glorying in the Duke's appointment, sees only too clearly where he is likely to fail, and sets out to do what he cannot via a series of lavish entertainments intended to win the gratitude and loyalty of both parties, but which ultimately do as much harm as good. Despite her husband's declaration that he will not interfere in the upcoming Silverbridge election, Glencora continues to meddle, including encouraging social-climbing aspirant Ferdinand Lopez to consider himself "the Duke's candidate"; but when Plantagenet puts his foot down, and publicly, it sets in motion a series of events that will damage both the government and Lopez's already shaky marriage to the lovely young Emily Wharton, who has become his wife in the teeth of her family's rigid opposition and is beginning to regret it... Following on from Trollope's great but depressing "state of the nation" novel, The Way We Live Now, The Prime Minister is one of the author's darkest works, offering little relief to the reader in either of its main plots. Trollope's understanding of both men and politics shows itself again in his depiction of the uncomfortable coalition, which finally collapses from the inside due to its members' self-interest and Plantagenet's inability to be the flexible leader that the government needs. However, his parallel depiction of the Lopez marriage is severely flawed. Lopez represents the class of men that Trollope most distrusted, those making a precarious living through speculation and other financial manipulations, which he viewed as fundamentally dishonest; but while the gradual revelation of Lopez as an amoral scoundrel is painful and effective, particularly as it is seen through the eyes of his swiftly disillusioned bride, the characterisation is lacking the psychological depth and motivation that we expect from Trollope, with no more reason given within the narrative for Lopez's unprincipled and wholly selfish behaviour than that his father wasn't English: a suggestion unworthy of the author, as is the antisemitism that taints this section of the novel. That said, the climax to this secondary plot is extraordinary, one of Trollope's most powerful passages of writing. Nevertheless, the novel is on firmer ground when exploring the Plantagenet-Glencora marriage, each of them wanting to do their best for the other, yet with the two of them constantly at odds and causing one another pain through sheer incompatibility of temperament and personality.

    "What is it that you fear? What can the man do to you? What matter is it to you if such a one as that pours out his malice on you? Let it run off like the rain from the housetops. You are too big even to be stung by such a reptile as that." The Duke looked into her face, admiring the energy with which she spoke to him. "As for answering him," she continued to say, "that may or may not be proper. If it should be done, there are people to do it. But I am speaking of your own inner self. You have a shield against your equals, and a sword to attack them with if necessary. Have you no armour of proof against such a creature as that? Have you nothing inside you to make you feel that he is too contemptible to be regarded?"
    "Nothing," he said.
    "Oh, Plantagenet!"
    "Cora, there are different natures which have each their own excellencies and their own defects. I will not admit that I am a coward, believing as I do that I could dare to face necessary danger. But I cannot endure to have my character impugned,---even by Mr. Slide and Mr. Lopez."
    "What matter,---if you are in the right? Why blench if your conscience accuses you of no fault? I would not blench even if it did. What;---is a man to be put in the front of everything, and then to be judged as though he could give all his time to the picking of his steps?"
    "Just so! And he must pick them more warily than another."
    "I do not believe it. You see all this with jaundiced eyes. I read somewhere the other day that the great ships have always little worms attached to them, but that the great ships swim on and know nothing of the worms."
    "The worms conquer at last."
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LibraryThing member JBD1
The fifth Palliser novel; not quite as good as the previous volume, but still a perfectly excellent read. The Duke of Omnium finds himself prime minister in a coalition government, and much of the plot revolves around his trials and tribulations in office (and at home). The other main plot concerns
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the rascally Ferdinand Lopez and his endeavors, which make at times for pretty uncomfortable telling.

Lots of recurring appearances from our old friends, which have gotten to be my favorite parts of this series.
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LibraryThing member antiquary
Again, I bought this to have a more portable copy of the book. I have not read the copies of this series I inherited because they are too bulky to carry conveniently. I recall my father saying that the prime minister lost power because he gave an honor (a KG?) to a man he felt deserved it (for his
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agricultural improvements?) instead of to someone with more political influence.
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LibraryThing member sonatad894
"The Prime Minister" was my second foray into Trollope's oeuvre, the first being "Can You Forgive Her?". Since then, I have read the final Palliser novel, "The Duke's Children"; and I must remark that Trollope's style is utterly unlike anything I have ever yet encountered -- and not necessarily in
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a complimentary sense. He wrote with something of the discursiveness of Thackeray and undeniably equals the latter's length, but without drawing any characters as vivid or lifelike as Becky Sharp from "Vanity Fair". Realism is certainly a specialty of Trollope's, and he gives excellent insight into the British political system and its 19th-century modus operandi. However, I expect an imaginative and well-maintained storyline in a novel above all else, and while Trollope's Palliser novels are all the former, I find that they lack a pellucid narrative and thoughtful, revealing dialogue.

All in all, a good read on a rainy day when you have a craving for a work of British literature that you haven't read before, but not memorable for characterisation or narrative style.
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LibraryThing member MacDad
This is the fourth of the Palliser novels that I have read (I skipped over The Eustace Diamonds with no ill effect) and so far it's the best of the bunch. In it Anthony Trollope offers two intertwining tales: that of the government of the upright and dutiful Plantagenet Pallier, Duke of Omnium, and
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the courtship of Emily Wharton, the daughter of a rich barrister, by the slick speculator Ferdinand Lopez. While I started the novel to read the first tale, I soon found myself much more interested in the development of the latter, which was perhaps a little predictable but no less engrossing for it. Yet Trollope's depiction of politics is no less entertaining in this novel, largely because of his focus on the machinations of the duke's wife, Lady Glencora Palliser. Though well-meaning, Trollope sees her efforts as counter-productive, which certainly raised questions for me as to why she is regarded by so many as one of Trollope's greatest heroines. Independent and willful as she may be, she seems to be presented in this novel mainly as a cautionary note as to the folly of women participating in politics, as her actions create many of the problems her husband's government subsequently faces. Nevertheless, she is marvelous as a plot device, and is one of the greatest strengths of this enjoyable book.
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LibraryThing member auntieknickers
Plantagenet Palliser at last becomes Prime Minister but all is not as golden for him as one would wish, partly because of Glencora's meddling. Gives an excellent picture of Victorian England in its highest strata.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
This is the fifth book in the Palliser series which has power and politics as an underlying theme. Interestingly, this is the first book in the series to provide any sort of political commentary. In the earlier volumes the politics is given very superficial treatment, but here, through Plantagenet
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Palliser, now Duke of Omnium, Trollope sets out his understanding of the differences between a Tory and a Liberal view of politics (effectively, Tory stands for no change, Liberal for increased equality). The lead character in the book is the villain, Lopez. Trollope does not do villains well. They tend to be one-dimensionally bad, and lack the subtlety of his other characters. There is also something dispiriting in a long book about a bad man. So, not Trollope's best effort, but even his lesser books are a joy to read. (Read Feb 2011).
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
I enjoyed the first 500 pages or so, up until Mr. Lopez dies. He was a blackguardly scoundrel but he was interesting!. Unfortunately, I found Emily and her megrims annoying and dull and I have to say that Plantagenet Palliser was much more fun in the Barsetshire series & became downright irritating
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in this novel. He and Emily were flawed in much the same way - and sadly a way I did not enjoy reading about. Ah well, only one more book in the series so I will persevere.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Plantagenet Palliser has reached the height of his career. When neither the conservatives nor the liberals can garner enough support to form a government, they turn to the Duke of Omnium (as Plantagenet is now) to serve as prime minister at the head of a coalition government. The Duchess (the
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former Lady Glencora) is ecstatic and immediately sets out to form a shadow government among the leading women of the country. But the poor Duke couldn't be more miserable when he discovers that his position, and the stability of the government, hinges on his complete inaction. (Except for ceremonial stuff.)

A secondary plot concerns Emily Wharton, the only daughter of a wealthy London gentleman who is determined to marry Ferdinand Lopez over her father's objections. Mr. Wharton objects to Lopez because he's not an English gentleman. (In other words, he's foreign and has Jewish ancestry.) Emily quite rightly objects to her father's prejudice. Unfortunately, while they're focused on Lopez's ancestry, they both fail to note that his primary occupation of futures trading will not provide the necessary financial stability to support a wife and family. The results are both tragic and predictable.

In a way, this is a story of frustrated ambition and of two unhappy marriages. The Pallisers' temperaments make them ill suited for each other, with seemingly incompatible goals. Plantagenet wants to be useful, while Glencora wants to be important. Plantagenet is unhappy when he's in an important position without useful work. Insufficient income seems to be at the root of the Lopez's marital problems, but as the Pallisers' situation proves, it takes more than money to make a happy marriage.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
In this, the fifth of Trollope’s Palliser novels, Plantagenet Palliser has recently been appointed Prime Minister and his wife, Glencora, is busy entertaining Members of Parliament and other dignitaries. At the same time, young Emily Wharton has just rejected her long-time suitor, Arthur
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Fletcher, in favor of rakish Fernando Lopez. These events set up the two principal storylines in The Prime Minister. Plantagenet is a rare breed of ethical politician, putting the country and others above himself. Glencora is well-intentioned but uses the power of her position to advance Lopez, which turns out to be a mistake. As does Emily’s marriage: Lopez takes advantage of Emily and her wealthy father, with disastrous consequences.

I really enjoyed reading this installment and was so caught up in it that the nearly 700 pages seemed to fly by. I have just one Palliser novel left to read and will miss them when I’m done.
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LibraryThing member idiotgirl
Very much enjoyed the book. A very good Palliser novel. Definitely at least a 3.5. This one is the story of the Duke as prime ministers. But also the story of Ferdinand Lopez. Portuguese, without family, good education, dark, probably Jewish. What becomes of him. Up, up. And married to a fine but
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stubborn young lady. Doesn't end up being a nuanced story because Lopez is a cad. In important ways, the interest of the story focuses on two women, the young woman who marries Lobez against the wishes of her family. And the duke's fesity wife Glencora. In some ways the most interesting story turns on the stubborness of the young wife. Will she recover from the husband. More importantly will she recover from her stubborness. Because of course things bad things happen to the husband.

Conventional and "happy" in the end. Not sure who has won. But I do like Glencora. And her friend--now Madame Finn. The best of soap opera can be found in the Palliser cycle.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I just love the Palliser series! This installment returns to a focus on the Duke who has become Prime Minister. The reader is also introduced to the tragically nefarious, narcissistic Ferdinand Lopez and the target of his plots, the Wharton family. Plotting, broken hearts, outwitting the fiend, and
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renewal of lost love. Ah yes! Of course, Trollope wouldn't be Trollope without a dash of social commentary, and in this story it is the maneuvering of the Members of Parliament, their concern for their image, and the way gossip impacts their decisions. Additionally we find Lady Palliser becoming caught up in the love of power and trying desperately to maintain her status through her husband's status. In fact, that is the primary theme here. Miss Wharton and Lady Palliser struggle with the definition of self through spouse throughout the drama. You will have to read it yourself to find out the results!
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
The penultimate book in Trollope’s political series finds Plantagenet Palliser, now the4 Duke of Omnium, called to be Prime Minister and organize a coalition government after the Liberal administration of Mr. Gresham falls. Lady Glencora is overjoyed and embarks on a series of grand
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entertainments to bolster her husband’s success.

In the process the Duchess finds herself in the company of Ferdinand Lopez, a handsome and ambitious young man who is “something” in the City of London, but no one is sure of just what that is. He is also politically ambitious and manages to convince the Duchess that he should stand for the seat in Silverbridge, the Duke’s borough. Lady Glencora agrees, but the Duke does not and forbids her from interfering in the election – an edict that the Duchess ignores.

Of course, no character in a Victorian novel named Ferdinand Lopez can be an upright gentleman, and this Mr. Lopez is certainly a very bad person indeed. He is a professional speculator, investing in the most dubious enterprises imaginable. He marries the daughter of a wealthy barrister who throws over a true English gentleman for this scoundrel, and very soon comes to regret her decision when he starts urging her to ask her father for money.

Meanwhile the Duke is having problems of his own, bringing up the age old question of whether or not a person of high mora; scruples can be a successful politician. The Duke with his upright (some may say rigid) morality is the perfect foil for Lopez who has no morality at all.

As usual with Trollope, the author weaves a colorful world that the reader, almost 150 years on, has no problem relating to.
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Audie Award (Finalist — 2013)


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