Phineas Redux is the fourth novel of Anthony Trollope's Palliser series and was first published in 'The Graphic' from July 1873 to January 1874. It marks the return of Phineas Finn (hence 'Redux'), the leading character in Phineas Finn, the second novel of the Palliser series (1869). The problem is, though, I really did not welcome the return of Phineas. With that in mind it won't surprise anyone to learn that I found reading this a miserable experience. Of course I started off with good intentions, I really did. Trollope novels can be very slow to start; that works most times, I seem to recall Barchester Towers (1857) was slow to begin with but I loved it. Conversely, Is He Popenjoy? (1878) took a while to get going too but by the time it did pick up it had lost me. This was the case with Phineas Redux: I tried very hard to be positive about it and put Phineas Finn out of my mind, and indeed for a while I did enjoy it, but by the time I felt it got interesting, or rather, ought to have been interesting, mentally I was just too far gone. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that with a good Trollope, I most often read them in a few days (whatever the length) because I'm so hooked. Phineas Redux I dragged out for nearly a month. In short, I was very quickly fed up with it.
For this reason I can only write about the gist of the plot: Phineas Finn, having resigned as an MP and returned to Ireland to marry Mary Flood Jones, finds himself in the beginning of Phineas Redux yearning for politics. His wife has died and his job as a poor-law inspector in Cork is unsatisfying, so he seeks out old friends and eventually wins a seat in Tankerville in County Durham: on this note, let it be said County Durham received one of the most unflattering descriptions of a county I have ever read:
Tankerville was a dirty, prosperous, ungainly town, which seemed to exude coal-dust or coal-mud at every pore. It was so well recognised as being dirty that people did not expect to meet each other with clean hands and faces. Linen was never white at Tankerville, and even ladies who sat in drawing-rooms were accustomed to the feel and taste and appearance of soot in all their daintiest recesses. We hear that at Oil City the flavour of petroleum is hardly considered to be disagreeable, and so it was with the flavour of coal at Tankerville. And we know that at Oil City the flavour of petroleum must not be openly declared to be objectionable, and so it was with coal at Tankerville. At Tankerville coal was much loved, and was not thought to be dirty. Mr. Ruddles was very much begrimed himself, and some of the leading Liberal electors, upon whom Phineas Finn had already called, seemed to be saturated with the product of the district. It would not, however, in any event be his duty to live at Tankerville, and he had believed from the first moment of his entrance into the town that he would soon depart from it, and know it no more.
Poor Durham! But, moving on: Phineas eventually wins his seat and makes a triumphant return to the Houses of Commons, marred only by an ongoing dispute with Mr Bonteen. When Bonteen is murdered, there are two suspects: Phineas, owing to the acrimony between the pair, and the Reverend Mr Emilius (the husband of Lizzie Eustace, the leading character of the much superior The Eustace Diamonds). Phineas must prove his innocence whilst his acquaintances are divided and the country is in thrall.
It has, of course, a variety of subplots to it: Lady Laura Kennedy and Madame Max Goesler's love of Phineas, and Adelaide Palliser's choosing between two suitors, for example, but as I say I was so weary of it I didn't read it as closely as I might have done. This may be particularly unkind, but this novel felt as though it was a character study of a young man entering politics and attaining some degree of maturity and wisdom, something I felt had already been attempted in Phineas Finn. It was a frustrating experience all in all. I read a blog review of Phineas Redux earlier: Desperate Reader wrote of it, "It's the detail that attracts me, that and his insistence on seeing an issue from everybody's point of view." This, for me, is why Trollope is a great writer, I completely agree with Desperate Reader, however I am forced to conclude that the 'detail' in this instance, or rather the general subject, wasn't something I was terribly interesting. I say again, it was frustrating - I do love English politics and would have hoped this would have been a peak reading experience.
But, there it is. Can't win them all! I will be reading the fifth Palliser novel, The Prime Minister (1876) next month and I do hope I'll enjoy it. I loved Can You Forgive Her? (1864-5) and adored The Eustace Diamonds. The Prime Minister may prove whether is it Phineas I have a problem with, or whether I am not so into the parliamentary aspect. The latter would be terribly unfortunate - the Palliser series is also known as the Parliamentary novels! Well, I will have to see. I'm very hopeful, simply I am having a rather bad run on Trollopes at present.
Classics Review: Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope, #4 in the Palliser series | Secret Life of a Reader