This is the fourth book in Trollope’s Palliser series and continues the story begun in the second book, Phineas Finn. It would have been possible to move straight from one Phineas novel to the other, but in between the two there is The Eustace Diamonds, which I’m glad I read first as several characters and storylines from that book are picked up again in this one.
*Spoiler warning – If you have not yet read Phineas Finn, be aware that the rest of this post will contain spoilers.*
At the beginning of the novel we learn that Phineas is now living alone in Dublin, his wife having died in childbirth. Phineas is leading a comfortable but uneventful life and misses the excitement of his former political career in London, so when an opportunity arises for him to return to England and stand for parliament again, he jumps at the chance. Soon Phineas is back in the House of Commons having won a seat as the member for Tankerville, but he almost immediately finds himself caught up in the controversy surrounding plans for the disestablishment of the Church.
The return of Phineas Finn to parliament also means that both he and the reader are reunited with old friends from earlier in the series. These include Plantagenet Palliser, now Duke of Omnium following the death of his elderly uncle, and his wife, Lady Glencora, the new Duchess. Madame Max Goesler, who had been a companion to the old Duke, is still part of Glencora’s circle and is pleased to be able to resume her friendship with Phineas. Meanwhile, Lady Laura Kennedy, the woman Phineas once hoped to marry, has left her husband, but Phineas knows that even though she is passionately in love with him, his own feelings have now changed.
There’s so much going on in Phineas Redux; now that we are four books into the series, the cast of characters is widening all the time. As well as all of the characters I’ve already mentioned, I was pleased to catch up with Lord Chiltern and Violet Effingham and to find that they are now a happily married couple. A young woman called Adelaide Palliser is staying with the Chilterns and one of the novel’s subplots centres around her as she attracts the attentions of two very different men – Gerard Maule and Ned Spooner. And a few characters from The Eustace Diamonds appear again too, including Lizzie Eustace, Lord Fawn and Mr Emilius.
I enjoyed meeting all of these people again and being back in the world of Phineas and the Pallisers, but it took a while for me to become fully drawn into this particular novel. There are some long political passages in the first half of the book, and some fox-hunting chapters too, which I struggled to get through. Then, somewhere in the middle of the novel, a murder takes place and from this point on I thought things became much more interesting. The murder is that of Mr Bonteen, a political rival of Phineas’s, and all the evidence seems to point to Phineas as the culprit.
Now, Anthony Trollope is no Agatha Christie, and we know from the beginning who really committed the crime, but the murder and the trial which follows allows Trollope to develop the relationships between Phineas and each of the other characters, some of whom have no doubts that Phineas is innocent and some who aren’t so sure. Phineas finds that his strongest support comes from the women in his life. Lady Laura wants to help, but is limited as to what she can actually do, and eventually becomes aware that while Phineas values her friendship, the offer he once made her is unlikely to be repeated. Laura’s story is a sad one, in contrast with Madame Max Goesler’s, who goes to great lengths to try to clear Phineas’s name and proves herself to be a true friend. And I love the warm-hearted Duchess and her enthusiasm for the causes she believes in.
After a slow start I enjoyed Phineas Redux and am looking forward to reading the final two Palliser novels. Next will be The Prime Minister!