A few weeks ago I went along to a lunchtime talk at the library by a representative from the Anthony Trollope Society. This year the Society is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Trollope’s birth so much of the talk was devoted to all the ways in which the Society has been commemorating Trollope this year. I did, however, pick up some interesting facts about the man himself along the way…
Did you know, for instance, that Trollope published nearly fifty novels in his lifetime, not including a huge number of non-fiction books, short stories, articles and plays?
Or that his mother was the adventuress Frances Trollope, who wrote a series of novels and travel books (including the hilarious sounding Domestic Manners Of The Americans)?
And did you know that Anthony Trollope is credited with introducing the red Post Office pillar boxes to Britain?
I certainly didn’t. The talk was great – marred only by the elderly gentleman to my left who seemed intent on falling asleep on my shoulder – and I came away even more convinced that I wanted to read something by Trollope. I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned that I’ve been thinking about this for a while now but I’ve been a bit daunted by the sheer number of books that Trollope wrote. Where to begin? The speaker recommended The Warden as a good introduction but sadly I couldn’t find a copy of this in the library or at the Oxfam shop. I did, however, find The Eustace Diamonds for £1.49 and this seemed like as good a one as any. Its the third in Trollope’s Palliser series and although I hadn’t read any of the preceding books it really didn’t make much difference. It’s almost a standalone novel except that some of the Palliser characters appear every now and again to comment on the ongoing diamond saga.
There’s an enormous cast of characters in The Eustace Diamonds but all the action centres around the penniless Lizzie Greystock who, at the beginning of the novel, charms the wealthy Lord Florian Eustace into an unhappy marriage. On his death a few months later she receives a generous settlement, including a castle in Scotland and several thousand pounds a year to live on for the rest of her life. She’s now a rich, young woman. Unfortunately this isn’t enough for the greedy Lizzie, who also decides to keep for herself an expensive diamond necklace, a Eustace heirloom that has been in the family for generations. It was given to her by Lord Florian to wear during their honeymoon but she now does everything in her power to resist having to return it to the Eustaces.
“Sometimes to me she is almost frightful to look at.”
“In what way?”
“Oh, I can’t tell you. She looks like a beautiful animal that you are afraid to caress for fear it should bite you; an animal that would be beautiful if its eyes were not so restless and its teeth so sharp and so white.”
Trollope makes it clear from the beginning – in the second sentence in fact – that we’re not to like Lizzie. She’s devious, dishonest, whiney and quite willing to trample all over everyone else to get what she wants. She also has no idea how awful she really is because in her eyes everyone else is at fault. She’s so manipulative, so annoying, that I found myself wishing that she’d get her comeuppance as soon as possible. I warmed to the peripheral characters much more although it was a bit of a shame that some of them seemed to disappear for long periods of time.
I like the way that Trollope really cleverly links together this quite disparate group of people and shows how the decisions made by one of them can impact on all the others. He’s also brilliant at describing the complex inner lives of his characters although sometimes these descriptions can run to a couple of pages at a time. On the one hand this means you get to know the mindset of each character in intimate detail; on the other it can take ages for anything to happen! It’s a long book and sometimes quite dense so I think if you prefer books with quick moving plots and lots of dialogue then this would probably be a complete nightmare for you!
As much as I enjoyed this book I did feel that it was perhaps a trifle too wordy. It seemed to flag a little in the middle (although this could have been partly because I was reading less in the middle of this week) although it did pick up again in the last quarter. A bit of whittling down might have been a help though. Perhaps Trollope could have taken out some of the Palliser chapters (and perhaps even some of those hunting trips) to make a smaller but equally as enjoyable novel.
It took me just over a week and a half to read this book and on the whole I really enjoyed it. It’s quite nice every now and again to read something that you really have to study to appreciate. And I really loved his characters; they were so beautifully described, even the nasty ones, that for a short time I felt like I knew these people intimately well. I’m so glad I finally took the plunge with Trollope and I’m excited about reading some more!