Anthony Trollope’s series of Palliser novels, also known as the “Parliamentary Novels”, is an epic saga which charts the story of the relationship between the wealthy aristocrat and Liberal politician Plantagenet Palliser and his wife, the headstrong and mischievous Lady Glencora. Set against the background of Parliamentary politics from the mid-1860s to the late 1870s, the plots of the six novels revolve around love, ambition, intrigue, and murder, documenting the fashions and manners over the period. Plantagenet and Glencora feature in all of the books, although sometimes as minor characters with a connection to the main protagonists. From the first book in the series Can You Forgive Her (1864) we see their, initially unhappy, relationship grow and mature, through Plantagenet’s time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Prime Minister in The Prime Minister (1876) until Glencora’s death at the beginning of The Duke’s Children (1879). The books feature an array of fascinating characters such as the wayward Lizzie Eustace and her adventures over the disputed ownership of her jewels in The Eustace Diamonds (1873) and her villainous new husband, the Rev. Mr. Emilius.
One of the most engaging characters features in the second and fourth books of the series, Phineas Finn: The Irish Member (1869) and Phineas Redux (1874) These two novels chart the journey of a charming and ambitious young Irishman of modest means, who is attempting to win a seat in Parliament, and follow his progress towards maturity and self-wisdom. To aid his political ambitions, Phineas attempts to make his mark among the aristocracy and find a wealthy and well-connected wife.
To this end, he becomes romantically entangled with three women in turn: Lady Laura Standish, Violet Effingham, and Madame Max Goesler, while, at home in Ireland, he is engaged to Mary Flood Jones, a simple country girl who has no inkling of his other relationships in London.
Phineas’ tale, set during the turbulent passage of the second Reform Act of 1867, reveals the absurdity of parliamentary proceedings but also touches on matters such as the position of women and the Irish question. Phineas’ integrity is often challenged by his ambition and he inevitably has to resign himself to the compromises of the party system. At the end of the first novel, he gives up his seat in Parliament and returns to Ireland to marry Mary and take up a well-paid sinecure as a Poorhouse inspector.
Phineas Finn was first published as a monthly serial in St. Paul’s Magazine from October 1867 to May 1868. Our two volumes of the novel contain 20 illustrations by the celebrated Victorian artist Sir John Everett Millais and were gifted to the Library in 1951.
In Phineas Redux, Phineas returns to the House of Commons after the death of his wife, Mary, but not with the enthusiasm of his earlier days. The central plot concerns the murder of a hated political rival. Phineas is suspected of the crime and has to stand trial at the Old Bailey.
His old friend Lady Laura Standish steadfastly believes in Phineas’ innocence but her estranged husband is determined to destroy his reputation due to his jealousy of Laura’s love for Phineas. His other great supporter is the wealthy widow Madame Max Goesler who is also in love with Phineas. She even undertakes to travel to Europe to secure evidence to prove his innocence. Eventually, Phineas is acquitted of the crime which it is revealed was committed by Reverend Mr Emilius, husband of Lady Eustace (the main character of The Eustace Diamonds).
Exhausted by his ordeal and disillusioned with politics, Phineas refuses an invitation to take office in the government again and marries Madame Max. In the mid 1860s, Trollope himself had parliamentary ambitions but these were quashed in 1868 when he stood for the borough of Beverley in Yorkshire. He came bottom of the poll in a corrupt contest and vented his disappointment in his Palliser novels. They gave him a platform to air views that he would have wished to express in the House of Commons.
The Palliser Novels represent Trollope’s second major series, and overlap with the first major series, the Chronicles of Barsetshire, which represent life in the rural fictional county where the Palliser family is politically important. In his 1883 Autobiography, Anthony Trollope called the Palliser novels “the best work of my life,” adding “I think Plantagenet Palliser stands more firmly on the ground than any other personage I have created.”