The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope.
One of my resolutions for 2016 was to finish Anthony Trollope's Palliser series (that was also a 2015 resolution but there it is) and now, with just over a week to go, I have finally finished it having now read -
- Can You Forgive Her? (1864-65)
- Phineas Finn (1867-68)
- The Eustace Diamonds (1871-73)
- Phineas Redux (1873-74)
- The Prime Minister (1876)
- The Duke's Children (1880)
If you've been keeping up with my posts you'll know that this read has not gone too well at all, which, given how much I love Anthony Trollope, is very unfortunate. The first novel Can You Forgive Her?, which I read in March 2015, went very well indeed, I loved it very much. By contrast, Phineas Finn was quite the disaster, I couldn't get into that, not even a smidgen and it wasn't until April 2016 that I finally completed it (after numerous false starts). The third, The Eustace Diamonds (I read it in May '16), was a return to form and this is by far my favourite of the Pallisers and even one of my favourite Trollopes overall. The fourth novel I had already resigned myself to not liking - back to Phineas of the second novel, I finally read it in July '16. Everything, I felt, hinged on the fifth, The Prime Minister, which I had no reason to begin with any preconceptions. But, having put it off until November '16, I couldn't get into that either, and, with only one book to go, I thought I may as well read it rather than prematurely call it a day with the Pallisers. So now, finally, The Duke's Children, another one I was largely unmoved by. Overall, reading the Pallisers was an enormous disappointment, but (and I'm not saying this because I usually love Anthony Trollope) I think it's perhaps more because I wasn't so interested in the subject matter; my lack of enthusiasm was not down to poor writing.
So, for this post, I will (rather dejectedly) say a few words (but not many) on The Duke's Children. To warn you, though, the book opens with the mother of all spoilers, so if you're reading or planning to read the Palliser novels (and please don't let me put you off - there are a myriad of good reviews out there for all the novels), I would stop reading now and don't look below this fine picture of the Houses of Parliament.
|The Houses of Parliament from the Thames.|
The Duke's Children was first serialised in 1879 in All the Year Round, the periodical founded by Charles Dickens, and a year later in 1880 it was published in novel form. It begins with the profoundly disappointing news that my favourite character Lady Glencora, one of the only characters I genuinely loved in the series, has died:
No one, probably, ever felt himself to be more alone in the world than our old friend, the Duke of Omnium, when the Duchess died. When this sad event happened he had ceased to be Prime Minister. During the first nine months after he had left office he and the Duchess remained in England. Then they had gone abroad, taking with them their three children. The eldest, Lord Silverbridge, had been at Oxford, but had had his career there cut short by some more than ordinary youthful folly, which had induced his father to agree with the college authorities that his name had better be taken off the college books,—all which had been cause of very great sorrow to the Duke. The other boy was to go to Cambridge; but his father had thought it well to give him a twelvemonth's run on the Continent, under his own inspection. Lady Mary, the only daughter, was the youngest of the family, and she also had been with them on the Continent. They remained the full year abroad, travelling with a large accompaniment of tutors, lady's-maids, couriers, and sometimes friends. I do not know that the Duchess or the Duke had enjoyed it much; but the young people had seen something of foreign courts and much of foreign scenery, and had perhaps perfected their French. The Duke had gone to work at his travels with a full determination to create for himself occupation out of a new kind of life. He had studied Dante, and had striven to arouse himself to ecstatic joy amidst the loveliness of the Italian lakes. But through it all he had been aware that he had failed. The Duchess had made no such resolution,—had hardly, perhaps, made any attempt; but, in truth, they had both sighed to be back among the war-trumpets. They had both suffered much among the trumpets, and yet they longed to return. He told himself from day to day, that though he had been banished from the House of Commons, still, as a peer, he had a seat in Parliament, and that, though he was no longer a minister, still he might be useful as a legislator. She, in her career as a leader of fashion, had no doubt met with some trouble,—with some trouble but with no disgrace; and as she had been carried about among the lakes and mountains, among the pictures and statues, among the counts and countesses, she had often felt that there was no happiness except in that dominion which circumstances had enabled her to achieve once, and might enable her to achieve again—in the realms of London society.
Then, in the early spring of 187—, they came back to England, having persistently carried out their project, at any rate in regard to time. Lord Gerald, the younger son, was at once sent up to Trinity. For the eldest son a seat was to be found in the House of Commons, and the fact that a dissolution of Parliament was expected served to prevent any prolonged sojourn abroad. Lady Mary Palliser was at that time nineteen, and her entrance into the world was to be her mother's great care and great delight. In March they spent a few days in London, and then went down to Matching Priory. When she left town the Duchess was complaining of cold, sore throat, and debility. A week after their arrival at Matching she was dead.
It is, I think, testament to Trollope's great characterisation that I, who largely did not like these novels, did feel great sadness. I had that melancholy moment all readers know - putting the book down after that second paragraph and staring very sadly out of the window. The death of Lady Glencora was a great blow. The final novel must go on without her, and so it does: the Duke is left to care for his three children, Lord Silverbridge, who is expelled from Oxford, Lord Gerald Palliser, an average student at Cambridge university, and the Duke's daughter Lady Mary Pailliser, who is intent on marrying the very unsuitable Frank Tregear. It would appear, to the Duke's disappointment, that Lady Glencora approved of this match and the two are engaged.
And so it is for the Duke to sort out his children, having recently lost too his position as Prime Minister: he wishes Lord Silverbridge to follow his footsteps into parliament despite the Oxford incident, and meanwhile Lord Silverbridge (who is financially unstable owing to an unwise involvement in horses) seems unable to make a match, proposing first to Lady Mabel Grex and then to the American heiress Isabel Boncassen. As this pans out Gerald adds to the Duke's woes by being expelled from Cambridge, and all the while the Duke must deal with Mary and her choice of husband.
This really has all the ingredients for a great novel, but I think I've been so fed up with my block with the Pallisers I couldn't get into it. Perhaps one day I'll revisit The Duke's Children (I'm unlikely to revisit The Prime Minister and I certainly won't ever re-read the two Phineas novels) because I do think it has such great promise. The Duke is a very interesting man and we've watched him grow from the very first novel Can You Forgive Her?. I just wish this had been less of a disaster for me!
So, what next? I always said I'd read The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy once I'd finished the Pallisers, so I do think I'll go more or less straight into that (I might possibly start it this evening). As for Trollope: I'm certainly not swearing off him for a while: I'm planning on reading at least two of his novels, Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite and Nina Balatka, next year, plus I have a long list of essays I'd like to read by him, all concerning the Church of England. For now I'm very happy at last to have finished the Pallisers: it's been something I've been meaning to read for many years now.