The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope.
The Eustace Diamonds marked my most happy and triumphant return to Anthony Trollope after over a year of dead ends. I have loved Trollope ever since I read He Knew He Was Right in January 2012 (I'm really due a re-read of that) but when I finished Can You Forgive Her? in March 2015 and then went on to Phineas Finn the next month it all came to a shuddering halt. It took a year to finally read Phineas Finn, and in that time I also tried The Landleaguers (still no signs of finishing that one). It seemed as though I'd fallen out of love with Trollope yet I was still determined to read his Palliser Series. Sensibly (I think) I decided to battle through Phineas Finn last month at whatever cost, then begin The Eustace Diamonds to see if the fun really truly was all over. I can happily say it is not: The Eustace Diamonds is the Trollope I know and love.
The Eustace Diamonds is the third novel of Anthony Trollope's Palliser or Parliamentary novels (following Phineas Finn) and was first serialised from 1871 - 1873. In this Trollope tells the story of Lizzie Eustace, the anti-hero, Trollope's Becky Sharp if you will. The novel begins with one of Trollope's best opening lines,
It was admitted by all her friends, and also by her enemies,—who were in truth the more numerous and active body of the two—that Lizzie Greystock had done very well with herself. We will tell the story of Lizzie Greystock from the beginning, but we will not dwell over it at great length, as we might do if we loved her.
Lizzie Greystock soon marries Sir Florian Eustace, who rather abruptly dies (we're only into the second of eighty chapters here), and she is left with her son very very well-off indeed and in possession of what are known as 'the Eustace diamonds' - a necklace worth some ten thousand pounds (approaching £500,000 in today's terms I believe). Understandably she wants to keep the diamonds, but are they her diamonds to keep? That is indeed the question. Mr. Camperdown, the Eustace family's solicitor, argues that they are not - they belong to the family as an heirloom, Sir Florian had no right to give them as a gift, and they must be returned immediately. Lizzie argues that they were a gift from her late husband and thus they do belong to her. Like the avaricious magpie she is, whatever the case she refuses to relinquish them and spends much of her time lying her way out of tight spots. To help her case, and to give her some firmer social standing, she seeks a husband, torn between Lord Fawn (who grows increasingly anxious about the diamonds) and Frank Greystock (who is already engaged to Lucy Morris, but that's no matter for Lizzie). Meanwhile, for fear Mr. Camperdown or the Eustace family will remove her diamonds she decides not to keep them safe at the bank but to keep them in her possession in an iron box. The one night the box is stolen and things become distinctly muddy for Lizzie Eustace and we quickly enter The Moonstone territory.
This is an incredible read - Lizzie is foul but oh, so compelling! She is one of Trollope's finest creations (though let it be said I do still miss Lady Glencora), vivid, exciting, horrible and manipulative, one of the biggest and greatest liars in literature. I loved The Eustace Diamonds and looked forward to reading it every day. It's one of Trollope's longer novels (my Penguin edition had just shy of 800 pages) but it absolutely flies by. It's now one of my favourite Trollopes, and one of my favourite all time books. That said, I can't say I'm very much looking forward to the next in the series, Phineas Redux, having rather suffered Phineas Finn enough already. But I have heard it's much better and I aim to start it in a few weeks.