Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds (1871)


You might have the impression that I'm not reading anymore, given that all the recent posts are about operas. No...I'm reading as usual. This one just took longer than normal, for what are probably fairly obvious reasons.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think there's actually something to be said for boredom in a Trollope novel. That doesn't mean I go out of my way looking to be bored, or that I'd ever say something like "you know what the problem with this book is? It's not boring enough." But all the same...there is something kind of soothing about the inevitable boring bits you come upon--with the signal exception, of course, of the fox-hunting bits, which are both boring and repulsive, and yup, there's one here. Bah.

Oh well. In this novel, Lizzie Eustace, née Greystock,'s husband has died, having given her, allegedly, an expensive diamond necklace, and there's a lot of controversy about whether he was allowed to even do such a thing, given that this is a ten-thousand-pound (a staggering amount of money for the time) heirloom. But she insists insists insists on keeping them. There's sometimes a certain meta quality to Trollope, in that he really lets you see behind the scenes, the things he's doing to keep the story going. I feel as though Lizzie is an example of this: we are SO, SO meant to just hate her and find her crazy-making, right from the start, and that will keep us reading. "We will tell the story of Lizzie Greystock from the beginning," he says, "but we will not dwell over it at great length, as we might do if we loved her." That is ice-cold. Though actually, there are parts in the second half when she does become sorta-kinda sympathetic in spite of herself, as attempted and successful jewel-thefts occur. She's pretty effective as an antihero, which you wouldn't necessarily expect from Trollope, so...hurrah.

Surrounding her is the usual Victorian hubbub, which is always a bit difficult to enumerate: so there's a guy named Lord Fawn who proposes to Lizzie and is accepted, but then they really kind of hate each other but he's stuck engaged because he just can't back out of it unless she lets him, imagine the shame, and she's not going to let him unless she feels like it, and MAN, we talk about self-destructive relationships in our time, but this is really something else. There's also Lizzie's cousin Frank Greystock, who gets engaged to a poor governess, Lucy Morris, who is meant to be the Good counterpoint to Lizzie, and it really almost comes across as passive-aggressive, the way he keeps assuring us that she isn't exceptional IN ANY WAY ("she was not beautiful. She had no wonderful gifts of nature. There was nothing of a goddess about her. She was absolutely penniless. She had never been what the world calls well-dressed"). BUT SHE IS PURE INTEGRITY. But between Lizzie and Lucy...it's not hard to figure out who's going to be the more interesting. And then it seems like Frank--who shouldn't really marry her, because he needs to marry money, and this certainly continues the relentless Trollopian obsession with pragmatism getting in the way of love--is maybe going to abandon her, and maybe he has eyes for Lizzie, but then he doesn't, although you couldn't call the romance in any event exactly compelling. You really don't see much of it. And GOOD GOD THERE IS SO MUCH MORE, including a couple of police inspectors who probably really were inspired by The Moonstone, you can sort of see the resemblance, though this novel really doesn't resemble that one. There's also another terrible engagement as counterpoint to Lizzie's, between this doofus named Sir Griffin Tewitt and a hyperbolically misanthropic Lucinda Roanoke, which is actually pretty funny but sort of breaks off with no punchline. Oh, and there's occasional commentary from Glencora Palliser and her pal Madame Max Goesler (from Phineas Finn), but they don't contribute much, and it's coming to look sort of weird that we're calling these "Palliser Novels."

Did someone say "casual anti-semitism?" Trollope's record in this regard is decidedly mixed, and you can definitely find things to say in his favor, but there is just A LOT of it in this novel; certainly I don't remember registering it to anything like this extent in his other novels that I've read. About Lizzie's ultimately successful suitor: "The man was a nasty, greasy, lying, squinting Jew preacher." You're certainly not at your most beautiful, Tony. And I have to note that given how concerned you were with the financial success of your books, you certainly didn't have any problem with alienating a portion of your potential audience--and for no damned reason, given that the anti-semitism certainly isn't the purpose of the novel.

Nevertheless, as Trollope novels go, this one is pretty okay. Is it a rip-roaring page-turner? It is not. Barchester Towers was certainly an anomaly in that regard. But...yeah. 'Salright. And we are told at the end that we're going to hear more about Lizzie's fate in the future, so be sure to pre-order Phineas Redux! And extra copies for your friends! Actually, right now I feel kind of disposed to read it sooner rather than later, even though I just know I'll almost immediately regret it. Well, that's the perverse charm that Trollope somehow exerts on me.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Dad pontificated to the effect that...

Just read a brief bio of AT which came with the Palliser discs (the first two episodes of which were pretty dark, btw). Anyway, we're gifted with all those fox hunting scenes because, well, AT loved loved loved fox hunting above all else in the world--for whatever that's worth.

10:08 AM  
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