The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

I love Anthony Trollope’s books, but sometimes I need to be pushed into picking them up; I know I’m going to enjoy them, but they are all so long and, once you start reading and become caught up in the lives of the characters, so intense, that I really have to be in the right mood before starting one. As I have already read the first four books in the Palliser series, I added the last two – The Prime Minister and The Duke’s Children – to my Classics Club list to ensure that I got to them sooner rather than later.

The Prime Minister is the fifth in the series and, as predicted, once I got into it I loved it. It had been a while since I read the previous novel, Phineas Redux, (two years, in fact) but that didn’t matter at all – yes, we are reunited with some old friends, but there are new characters and new storylines too, so it wasn’t really necessary to be able to remember everything that happened in the last book. One of those new characters is Ferdinand Lopez, a handsome, charismatic adventurer, thought to be of Portuguese-Jewish descent, who sets his sights on marrying Emily Wharton, the daughter of a wealthy London lawyer.

Emily is in love with Lopez, but Mr Wharton is not at all happy at the prospect of having him as his son-in-law. He has always hoped to see Emily marry her friend Arthur Fletcher, whose family have connections with the Whartons. However, as his main objection to Lopez as a suitor is based on the fact that he is not an Englishman and nobody knows who his parents are, Mr Wharton eventually agrees to let Emily choose her own husband. Will she be happy with her choice or will she end up regretting her decision?

Ferdinand Lopez is a wonderful character; it is obvious from the start that he is going to be the villain of the novel, but we don’t know exactly what form his villainy will take. Watching him plot and scheme as he tries to make himself rich and rise up the social ladder is what drives the story forward. It’s disappointing, from a modern day perspective, that Ferdinand’s background is seen as one of the factors against him, but of course it’s realistic that a conservative, conventional Victorian gentleman like Mr Wharton would have held those views. Anyway, he is much more interesting to read about than Emily’s other love interest, the likeable, socially acceptable but slightly boring Arthur Fletcher. The relationship between the three of them reminded me of the two similar storylines in the first Palliser novel, Can You Forgive Her?

But this book is called The Prime Minister and so far I haven’t mentioned the title character at all! He is a man we already know from the previous books in the series: Plantagenet Palliser, who has recently inherited the title of Duke of Omnium. With neither main political party able to form a government on their own, a coalition has been formed and Plantagenet has been made Prime Minister, mainly because no one else is considered suitable. And Plantagenet is not entirely suitable either; he is an honest, dignified, principled man but lacks the ruthlessness and the leadership skills that are needed in his new job.

The Duchess of Omnium – formerly Lady Glencora Palliser – is much happier in her role as Prime Minister’s wife than Plantagenet is in his as Prime Minister! In some ways she has a better understanding of politics than he does, but their very different methods of dealing with their new position in the world lead to some conflict and tension in their marriage – particularly when Ferdinand Lopez arrives at one of Glencora’s parties hoping to be shown some favour by the new Prime Minister.

Both stories – the story of Emily and her husband and the story of the Prime Minister – are interesting and compelling. Although it was published in 1876 some aspects of the plot still have a lot of relevance today, such as the power of the press and the integrity of politicians being called into question. This is one of my favourite books in the Palliser series and I’m now looking forward to reading the final one, The Duke’s Children.

This is book 4/50 from my second Classics Club list.

24 thoughts on “The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

    • Helen says:

      If you enjoyed Can You Forgive Her I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rest of the series too. I’m glad I’ve reminded you of them! 🙂

  1. FictionFan says:

    It’s ages since I read any of the Palliser novels and I don’t think I read them all, or in order. I think this one was the last I read, though, many years ago and yet your review brought it back clearly, so it must have hibernated in some brain cell somewhere. Now of course I want to read them all – can I forgive you? 😉

    • Helen says:

      I’m sure you can squeeze another six books onto the TBR! Of course, they’re so long they’re the equivalent of about twelve. This is a great one – possibly my favourite of the Palliser series so far.

  2. cirtnecce says:

    I think you summarized all us Trollopian fan’s reaction in your opening lines – we love Trollope, but because of the length and complexity of his novels, we need to find the right time to read it. I love the Palliser series, though I have read only the first two; I must try and get back to the series soon!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, you need to be able to really concentrate on his novels as they are so long and immersive. I have enjoyed all of the Palliser books so far – I hope you’re able to continue with the series soon!

  3. Liz Dexter says:

    I’ve still got to get through the rest of the Barsetshires before I start the Pallisers, and I know exactly what you mean, hard to start, love ’em when you do get started!

  4. buriedinprint says:

    Perhaps that’s more often true of long novels in general? I can certainly relate, but I’ve only read one of Trollope’s novels, so don’t feel quite qualified to say on his count..Although, I have done a fine job of avoiding them for the past ten years or so (since The Warden – which I actually really did enjoy but…). Okay, so you’re quite right then.

    • Helen says:

      I think with Trollope, it’s a combination of the length and the fact that they take a while to get into. The first hundred pages or so tend to be devoted to setting the scene and introducing the characters. The Warden is unusually short for Trollope! I remember enjoying it, but loved most of the other Barsetshire novels even more.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you loved this one too. I think I preferred reading about Barchester, but that could just be because I discovered that series first.

  5. piningforthewest says:

    I really loved this one. When I read it it all seemed so topical as the politics here at the time involved a Liberal- Conservative coalition.

  6. Judy Krueger says:

    Some people say I have read everything. I have not. Not one book by Trollope. I must remedy that. Your review of The Prime Minister and the fact that it is a series has intrigued me.

    • Helen says:

      He wrote two series – the Pallisers and the Chronicles of Barsetshire – and I’ve loved both, but I am looking forward to trying some of his standalones. I hope you have an opportunity to try Trollope soon!

  7. julesbee2014 says:

    I hope this isn’t against the spirit of your blog, but I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook version of ‘The Prime Minister’. I’ve listened to the first 4 in the series, so just have ‘The Duke’s Children’ to go. I read all 6 novels years ago, and loved them, but couldn’t remember them clearly. These audiobooks are read sublimely well by Timothy West, and I’ve enjoyed listening to them in the car and on the train, as well as whilst knitting! I’ve found them just as immersive an experience to listen to as to read – perhaps even more so.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for your comment. It’s not against the spirit of my blog at all! I’m not personally a big fan of audiobooks – I’ve tried several and find it hard to concentrate on them, even in the car – but I know a lot of people love them. Maybe I just haven’t been trying the right ones. I hope you enjoy listening to The Duke’s Children.

  8. Marion Joan Francoz says:

    Trollope is usually so good with his female characters, but Emily Wharton is so compliant, wishy washy, and uncomprehending of her husband’s financial affairs, I couldn’t give her any sympathy. Other than that, “The Prime Minister” is complex and intriguing. The Palliser series is a tour de force of political intrigue, character and relationship development.

    • Helen says:

      No, Emily isn’t one of Trollope’s stronger female characters. I found Ferdinand much more interesting to read about. The Palliser series certainly is a tour de force, though! I still have the last book, The Duke’s Children, waiting to be read.

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