|THE PRIME MINISTER by Anthony Trollope
||[Oct. 25th, 2017|06:46 am]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
Plantagenet Palliser becomes Prime Minister, Lady Glencora has ambitions, and an English woman, Emily Wharton, marries a half-foreign businessman, Ferdinand Lopez, against her family's wishes.
In the business plot of the book, Trollope returns to familiar territory from THE WAY WE LIVE NOW - inveighing against financial con artists and conscienceless scammers. The message hasn't lost a contemporary sting.
In the political half of the book, Lady Glencora intends to rise so high as to put the Queen down - not in the treasonous sense, but in the social sense, and make Buckingham Palace parties second-rate. Her ambition is exuberant but doesn't quite match her abilities or her husband's tastes. Palliser becomes Prime Minster, only it's at the head of a narrowly raised coalition with little power to achieve anything, and he has to ignore some of his scruples if he wants to succeed. Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser both get exactly what they thought they wanted, and discover it to be flawed. Their characterisation continues to develop.
"I sometimes think, Plantagenet, that I should have been the man, my skin is so thick; and that you should have been the woman, yours is so tender."
Ferdinand Lopez' narrative barely intersects with the Pallisers. Lopez makes an ill-starred run at Parliament thanks to some impetuous promises from Glencora, and shames the Pallisers and himself as a result. Lopez is a suspicious, non-English character, and eventually proves the English right about his untrustworthy nature.
I think Trollope manages to navigate Ferdinand Lopez' narrative. The English Whartons and Fletchers are bigoted against Lopez because he is Portugese and possibly Jewish; Lopez is a bad man; but he is not bad because his father was Portugese and possibly Jewish. The narrative recounts the English prejudices with irony, although the Lopez plot doesn't serve as a shining denunciation of bigotry. Mrs Marie Finn, formerly Madame Max Goesler, cameos in this novel; she is also Jewish or ambiguously Jewish, and much beloved by the author and other characters.
Was the man necessarily unworthy because his name was Lopez, and because he had not come of English blood?
I think the novel answers this question 'no'.
The novel asks another central question: should a parent choose a lover for their children, and to what extent are the children to blame if they make a bad choice? According to Emily Lopez, her bad fate is her fault that she married without her father's approval (but with his consent).
But Mrs. Lopez never for a moment forgot that she had done the mischief,—and that the black enduring cloud had been created solely by her own perversity and self-will. Though she would still defend her late husband if any attack were made upon his memory, not the less did she feel that hers had been the fault, though the punishment had come upon them all.
Trollope has examples of wrongfully stern parents in his other works; his books do not preach that it's always right to conform to your father. Mr Wharton isn't even a particularly sagacious judge of character. Good judgement is not linked to gender either. Mrs Sexty Parker, the only character who sees Lopez' actual flaw (being a con artist), is a woman, a lower-class woman no less. This novel is probably the other half to Trollope's marriage equation: both love and financial stability are preconditions to a good marriage, and Emily as well as everyone around her failed to make inquiries as to the latter.
In this novel, parental control about marriage is no longer a social norm; parents can't force their children to marry or not marry, and this is basically a good thing; and yet sometimes the children make poor choices. The conclusion I'm drawing from this novel is 'abolish patriarchy'. Emily, ignorant of finance, couldn't grasp that Lopez was a con artist (no one else did either, except Mrs Sexty Parker, and no one listened to her), and because Emily is a woman there was no recourse when her husband turned out bad. The grim realism of this story shows some of the social ills.
One of the things I love about Trollope is that his attention to detail can't help showing the issues of his day, even when the official narrative solution to them is very different to the actual societal changes we've seen in the years since then. Lady Glencora has incredible abilities, a strong mind, and a thick skin; the narrative owns that women like her exist; and from there it's a small step to go that the feminist solution is better than patriarchy.
Emily Wharton, unfortunately, isn't one of Trollope's interesting female characters. Her situation is sympathetic, and I would've liked her to be the strong-principled interesting character that I think the narrative intends, but she comes across as a flat prig.
There are a few noteworthy minor characters and cameos. John Fletcher is sarcastic but sympathetic, and pulls more than his weight in lightening the mood - something cheery always comes in handy in a ponderous Trollope novel. Quintus Slide is Anthony Trollope writing Rita Skeeter ... again. Lady Carbury from THE WAY WE LIVE NOW is briefly mentioned and implied to be happy with her husband. John Grey from CAN YOU FORGIVE HER is going to Persia and resigning his House of Commons seat. I wonder what his wife Alice thinks about that? I am going to assume that Alice gloriously enjoyed the Persian adventure.
Lady Eustace cameos with exciting character development - at the critical moment of the novel, she shows self-preservation and intelligence. She's become less ignorant than in THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS, perhaps mostly through her disastrous second marriage, and this is a piece of intriguing advancement.
Lizzie Eustace, will you go with me, to that land of the sun,
Where the rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle,
Now melt into sorrow, now madden to crime?
Will you dare to escape with me from the cold conventionalities, from the miserable thraldom of this country bound in swaddling cloths? Lizzie Eustace, if you will say the word, I will take you to that land of glorious happiness."
But Lizzie Eustace had £4000 a year and a balance at her banker's. "Mr. Lopez," she said.
"What answer have you to make me?"
"Mr. Lopez, I think you must be a fool."
Lady Eustace has also made a friend in this novel.
Mrs. Leslie came in gorgeous clothes, which, as she was known to be very poor, and to have attached herself lately with almost more than feminine affection to Lady Eustace, were at any rate open to suspicious cavil.
I don't think this passage is meant to show lesbian subtext between pretty widowed Mrs Leslie and her patron Lady Eustace, but I'm all in favour of anything that can be read for femslash.
This novel doesn't bring the Palliser story to the forefront as much as it should, but it holds together and contributes an important part to the Pallisers' history. The Lopez arc can certainly be interpreted in a cringeworthy manner. But it's by no means a bad Trollope, and it's required reading for fans of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet.