Another great Trollope book. As usual, you can find a full plot summary here.
This story followed a familiar Trollope pattern but with enough departures from the usual to make it interesting – of course I would have been interested even if it hadn't departed as I don't seem to be able to get enough of Mr Trollope's writings.
Politics again took a back seat in this novel, after making an appearance in the second of the Palliser Novels. Of course we still get some great descriptions of political beliefs from Trollope:
He had been asked to stand for Bobsborough in the Conservative interest, and as a Conservative he had been returned. Those who invited him knew probably but little of his own political beliefs or feelings,—did not, probably, know whether he had any. His father was a fine old Tory of the ancient school, who thought that things were going from bad to worse, but was able to live happily in spite of his anticipations. The dean was one of those old-world politicians,—we meet them every day, and they are generally pleasant people,—who enjoy the politics of the side to which they belong without any special belief in them. If pressed hard they will almost own that their so-called convictions are prejudices. But not for worlds would they be rid of them. When two or three of them meet together, they are as freemasons, who are bound by a pleasant bond which separates them from the outer world. They feel among themselves that everything that is being done is bad,—even though that everything is done by their own party. It was bad to interfere with Charles, bad to endure Cromwell, bad to banish James, bad to put up with William. The House of Hanover was bad. All interference with prerogative has been bad. The Reform bill was very bad. Encroachment on the estates of the bishops was bad. Emancipation of Roman Catholics was the worst of all. Abolition of corn-laws, church-rates, and oaths and tests were all bad. The meddling with the Universities has been grievous. The treatment of the Irish Church has been Satanic. The overhauling of schools is most injurious to English education. Education bills and Irish land bills were all bad. Every step taken has been bad. And yet to them old England is of all countries in the world the best to live in, and is not at all the less comfortable because of the changes that have been made. These people are ready to grumble at every boon conferred on them, and yet to enjoy every boon. They know, too, their privileges, and, after a fashion, understand their position. It is picturesque, and it pleases them. To have been always in the right and yet always on the losing side; always being ruined, always under persecution from a wild spirit of republican-demagogism,—and yet never to lose anything, not even position or public esteem, is pleasant enough. A huge, living, daily increasing grievance that does one no palpable harm, is the happiest possession that a man can have. There is a large body of such men in England, and, personally, they are the very salt of the nation. He who said that all Conservatives are stupid did not know them. Stupid Conservatives there may be,—and there certainly are very stupid Radicals. The well-educated, widely-read Conservative, who is well assured that all good things are gradually being brought to an end by the voice of the people, is generally the pleasantest man to be met. But he is a Buddhist, possessing a religious creed which is altogether dark and mysterious to the outer world. Those who watch the ways of the advanced Buddhist hardly know whether the man does believe himself in his hidden god, but men perceive that he is respectable, self-satisfied, and a man of note. It is of course from the society of such that Conservative candidates are to be sought; but, alas, it is hard to indoctrinate young minds with the old belief, since new theories of life have become so rife!
The theory of life and system on which social matters should be managed, as displayed by her married daughter, was very painful to poor old Lady Fawn. When she was told that under the new order of things promises from gentlemen were not to be looked upon as binding, that love was to go for nothing, that girls were to be made contented by being told that when one lover was lost another could be found, she was very unhappy. She could not disbelieve it all, and throw herself back upon her faith in virtue, constancy, and honesty. She rather thought that things had changed for the worse since she was young, and that promises were not now as binding as they used to be. She herself had married into a Liberal family, had a Liberal son, and would have called herself a Liberal; but she could not fail to hear from others, her neighbours, that the English manners, and English principles, and English society were all going to destruction in consequence of the so-called liberality of the age. Gentlemen, she thought, certainly did do things which gentlemen would not have done forty years ago; and as for ladies,—they, doubtless, were changed altogether.
Instead we have some elements of the traditional mystery. Most of all, we have a Trollopian love story – a love triangle with a happy ending and with one of the constituents of triangle being revealed as a complete cad. The difference this time, is that our main character is the scoundrel, Lady Eustace. The noble characters, the true heroes, are kept in the background. Yet Trollope is not as harsh with our villian in this story as he is with his (male) villians in the other novels I have read. Why is this? Because our villian is a woman, and for Trollope, women cannot be as villianous as men?
If there is a major theme in the love stories in this novel is about breaking engagements. We see engagements broken and we see engagement almost broken.
And, of course, Trollope creates a female character, who wins the day, who one cannot help but love. What man wouldn't fall helplessly in love with a woman of whom the following could be said:
To her thinking now, there was no sin to be forgiven. Everything was, and had been, just as it ought to be. Had any human being hinted that he had sinned, she would have defended him to the death.
There are some interesting thoughts on property in the book, but for my money, the book is about love. It is about people getting engaged and being pulled in another direction. Life seemed to work out best for those who had married for love and stuck to their promises.