The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope.

1876 edition.
I've said this before but it needs repeating for this post: Anthony Trollope's Palliser series is quite the roller coaster for me. The first novel Can You Forgive Her? (1865) I loved. The second, Phineas Finn (1869) - hated. The third, The Eustace Diamonds (1873): the best one yet. The fourth - Phineas Redux (1874): hated. Now here we are at the fifth: The Prime Minister, first published in 1876. Quite liked it. Quite. And it is this point I ought to conclude that despite two successes, it might be a good point to give up reading the Pallisers, given how much I dread reading them (yes, despite those two successes). But it's far too late anyway, there's only one more to go: The Duke's Children, 1880; I'd be mad not to read the final one. We're not there yet, but I am happy that I am now likely to finish one of my last 2016 goals: to finish the Palliser series, which I've been reading since March '15.

So then, The Prime Minister. It is the fifth of the Palliser novels, published as I say in 1876, 140 years ago but with some very familiar themes. The Whig government (who eventually turned into the Liberals, who then transformed into the Liberal Democrats) fell and neither Mr. Gresham of the Whigs nor Mr. Daubeny of the Tories were able to establish a majority, so a coalition government was formed (naturally reminding me of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-15, though it was a Labour government that fell). Plantagenet Palliser (who we first caught a glimpse of in The Small House at Allington, 1864), now the Duke of Omnium and former Chancellor of the Exchequer is to lead this coalition government. Coalitions are by their nature very fragile, and the Duke relies on his wife the Duchess (best known as Lady Glencora Palliser of Can You Forgive Her?, 1864-5) to help him win friends and support. It is a portrait of a marriage of two people who have come to love and respect each other but aren't quite on the same page so to speak. Elsewhere, we meet Ferdinand Lopez who, to the fury of the Duke, succeeds in persuading Lady Glencora to back him in standing as a candidate at the Silverbridge by-election against Arthur Fletcher, and meanwhile marries the woman Fletcher loves - Emily Wharton, against her father's expressed disapproval; a match very difficult to understate how disastrous.

One of the more interesting aspects of The Prime Minister is the portraits of two imperfect couples. The marital strains of the Duke and Duchess of Omnium began to be explored in Can You Forgive Her? and in The Prime Minister we see a degree of settling, and a relationship of mutual love and respect, yet mistakes continue to be made. The most dramatic of the two couples though is Emily Wharton and Ferdinand Lopez: he is a risk taker whose endeavours end in tragedy and we see Emily deal with her catastrophic decision in marrying Lopez. Like the Duchess, he is ambitious: Glencora's ambition is to make her husband one of the greatest Prime Ministers in British history, Lopez too seeks power and glory, but with far less success, in part owing to his "foreign name" (the word "foreign" is repeated several times in disparaging ways).

As ever the political wranglings of the Palliser series are of interest, and, for me, the novel was saved by the ever-brilliant Lady Glencora Palliser, who is one of Trollope's finest characters (and I believe it wouldn't take too much to put Emily Wharton in the shade: she's not the most engaging of characters). It wasn't a bad read, but there are much better Trollope novels out there. Next on my list is of course the final Palliser, The Duke's Children, which I've vaguely hopeful for, after which I think there'll be a period of 'getting over': this series has unfortunately rather dented my love of Trollope. I think perhaps 2017 would be a good time for re-reading some of his greats (He Knew He Was Right being first on my list!).

Comments

  1. i read the Barchester series which i mostly liked, but have experienced a chill when contemplating starting the Palliser books/ maybe i'll get there sometime, but not right now... tx for the forthright posts re the series...

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    1. I loved the Barchester series too - not every single one, but most. 5 / 6, probably. Really enjoyed reading that. But no, the Pallisers aren't working for me sadly. Even so will most likely start the final one this week :)

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  2. Have you ever read Trollope's autobiography? I found it fascinating reading even though I have only read a couple of his books long ago (The Small House at Allington was one; can't remember the other immediately maybe The Warden?) Anyway, I admired AT's workmanlike approach to cranking out that vast volume of work. :-)

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    1. I have read it - I really enjoyed it. His work ethic is indeed impressive. I (roughly) remember one quote - a task done daily beats the spasmodic efforts of Hercules. Something along those lines :) I must re-read that.

      The Small House at Allington was my grandmother's favourite book, and The Warden is mine :)

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    2. In a "shocking" coincidence, I ran into the "daily task" quote you mention a couple days ago in a totally different location. It was in some book of advice to writers or "how to write ___ ____" or something. Funny how that always happens. He quoted it as "A small daily task, if it be really daily will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules." :-)

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    3. That's the one! A great quote. Must re-read his autobiography. As soon as I've got The Duke's Children out of the way (I started it last night, got to about 6 pages in. Have next to no hopes for it sadly) I'll get to it I hope :)

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