Is Phineas Redux the weakest of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels? Or am I not fair to it? I probably wasn’t fair on this reading, letting it linger on my bedside table and reading only before going to sleep. Did Phineas Redux make me sleepy because I am not hugely interested in mid-19th-century English politics? Or am I not hugely interested etc. etc. because I only read a few ages a night before conking out?
However I order the cause and effect, I end up with affection for this novel, rather than enthusiasm. The characters whom we discover with such pleasure in Can You Forgive Her? and Phineas Finn are still present, still being themselves, but with less élan. Phineas is less the young man on the make and more of a device to permit description of various political currents and strategies. Lady Glencora, now a Duchess, has joined the ranks of the grandes dames. Lady Laura Kennedy is admittedly one of Trollope’s brilliantly observed unbalanced characters — but like many of the unbalanced, she’s not much fun to be around. And even the seriocomic marriage plot, featuring the idle hunting man Gerard Maule and Miss Adelaide Palliser, lacks the bite and humor of Mrs. Greenow’s courtship in Can You Forgive Her?
Here, Phineas has returned to London after two years in Ireland (might as well be the outer darkness for our ambitious hero). His sweet Irish wife has died and so has his father. Phineas has a small inheritance and retains plenty of ambition, so he agrees to run for Parliament in the hopes that he’ll be able to pick up a governmental post to pay his bills. But it doesn’t work out that way — he wins his seat, but is required to claim beliefs he doesn’t actually hold. Then he is not brought into the government. This is a serious problem for Phineas, who runs with an expensive crowd. And finally, he is accused of murder when a political rival is killed one evening after leaving a club both men belong to. With Trollope we’re accustomed to toggle between his naturalistic and sensational modes of story-telling, but this plot line always seems forced to me.
Still. At the end of each day I reached for this book with considerable pleasure, finding the world of Anthony Trollope a pleasant place to spend a few minutes before retiring. And there’s nothing wrong with that.