Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium and former Prime Minister of England, is widowed and wracked by grief. Struggling to adapt to life without his beloved Lady Glencora, he works hard to guide and support his three adult children. Palliser soon discovers, however, that his own plans for them are very different from their desires. Sent down from university in disgrace, his two sons quickly begin to run up gambling debts. His only daughter, meanwhile, longs passionately to marry the poor son of a county squire against her father's will. But while the Duke's dearest wishes for the three are thwarted one by one, he ultimately comes to understand that parents can learn from their own children. The final volume in the Palliser novels, The Duke's Children (1880) is a compelling exploration of wealth, pride and ultimately the strength of love.
The well-loved Duchess of Omnium, Lady Glen, is gone now, and the Duke is left to care for his three children, all young adults by this time. The eldest, Lord Silverbridge, has been dismissed from Oxford on account of some certain trouble involving the Dean’s home and red paint. The Duke’s second son, Lord Gerald, is doing moderately well at Cambridge. And Lady Mary, his only daughter, seems intent on what her father deems an unsuitable marriage.
As the story progresses, the Duke will be called upon to guide and to discipline each of his children; and he will be hard pressed to reconsider his previously ironclad notion of “duty.” He comes to share in his children’s joy in a way that the most hard-hearted could only admire, but the getting there – well, there’s the story. Silverbridge and Lady Mary will tax their father to near his wits end with the matter of marriages he deems not befitting their station. When Silverbridge is refused by the suitable Lady Mabel Grex, he falls in love with an independent, spirited American, Isabelle Boncassen. Lady Mary declares she will have no other than Frank Tregear, a young and ambitious, but penniless, politician. The Duke is astounded “that an almost penniless young gentleman was asking in marriage the daughter of the richest and greatest nobleman in England.” (Ch 5) If this weren’t enough headache, Silverbridge enters an ill-fated partnership in the ownership of an ill-fated racehorse with one Major Tifto, “a nasty, brawling, boasting, ill-conditioned little reptile.” (Ch 17) And Lord Gerald is expelled from Oxford whereupon he turns shamefully to the gaming tables and becomes deeply indebted to a family acquaintance.
My favourite quotes are the two following in which the Duke speaks of duty and station, and of money. In the first, he is speaking of his disapproval of Lady Mary’s association with Frank Tregear. And in the second, he is addressing Lord Gerald on the subject of money, following his son’s gambling losses.
“Disapprove of it! How could it be otherwise? Of course you felt that. There are ranks in life in which the first comer that suits a maiden's eye may be accepted as a fitting lover. I will not say but that they who are born to such a life may be the happier. They are, I am sure, free from troubles to which they are incident whom fate has called to a different sphere. But duty is—duty;—and whatever pang it may cost, duty should be performed.” (Ch 41)
“Do you ever think what money is? … Money is the reward of labour," said the Duke, "or rather, in the shape it reaches you, it is your representation of that reward. You may earn it yourself, or, as is, I am afraid, more likely to be the case with you, you may possess it honestly as prepared for you by the labour of others who have stored it up for you. But it is a commodity of which you are bound to see that the source is not only clean but noble.” (Ch 65)
The Duke’s Children is a brilliant conclusion to Trollope’s “Parliamentary Novels.” To Simon Vance, with whom I’ve spent so much time – and adored every moment of it – perhaps the best compliment I can offer is that he comes as highly recommended as the venerable author. Most highly recommended – the whole series! But I think this one was my favourite.
Everyone but the Duke knows from the beginning of the novel how it will end. The novel is a character study with conflict arising from a “generation gap” in the midst of shifting social standards. Trollope was forced to cut a considerable portion of the novel prior to its original publication. Only recently has Trollope's original text been restored for publication. If I had to guess, I'd say that Trollope's cuts were made at the expense of the political portions of the novel. The earlier Palliser novels have more balance between politics and domestic life. Domestic/private life has more emphasis in this novel, and the political developments at the end of the novel come as a surprise.
I also found Lady Mabel Grex irritating and repetitive.
Mrs. Finn, previously Madame Max, gets once more to kick some Palliser butt, and it's highly enjoyable to watch (i.e., read). She reminds me somewhat of Martha Dunstable, later Mrs. Dr. Thorne, but less puckish.
Major Tifto is a quite satisfactory heel, and Dolly Longstaff, now 35-years-young, gets a few aristocratic zingers in.
Not too much hunting and barely any real politics. Isabel, the "American" was entirely lacking in personality and Mary didn't have much beyond loyalty/obstinacy. Mabel was a much more fully-drawn character, but her story was a tragedy and she behaved so badly at the end that I was surprised the narrator treated her in such a sympathetic fashion. The ending was a little abrupt and the final pages particularly so. So Lord Fawn married at last...
It is not a criticism of the novel to say that it is not the best entry in the "Palliser" series. Perhaps this is because of the editing Trollope was forced to agree to (which led to the excising of a quarter of the novel) in order to publish it, and I am reserving final judgment until after I read the unexpurgated version, which is due to come out in a limited edition later this year, and will hopefully be published for a larger audience later on. As it is, though, it offers a frustrating sense of promise, as it seemed to me that he was introducing a new generation of characters to take on further adventures in the British political world that he wrote about so enjoyably in the previous novels in the series. Alas we are left only with this one, which will have to do as a conclusion to the world of the Pallisers.
Of course the problems of the Victorian age are not those that have much relevance today,but the strength of the writing carry the story along well.
My one and only criticism of Trollope is in the naming of some of his secondary characters. For example Sir Timothy Beeswax and Miss Cassewary.This seems to me to smack of laziness on the part of an otherwise marvelous writer.