|THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS by Anthony Trollope
||[Sep. 25th, 2017|08:13 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
Trollope writes Becky Sharp, aka Lady Eustace. The results are definitely entertaining. Like most writers, Trollope takes great relish depicting a character with no moral restraints whatsoever.
The Lord Fawn family, Madame Max Goesler, Lady Chiltern nee Violet Effingham, Lady Glencora, and various others sweep onto the stage at various times in this continuation of the Palliser political saga.
Impoverished but cunning and beautiful Lizzie Greystock captured the heart of Sir Florian Eustace, baronet - who was heartbroken when he discovered her lie about previous debts incurred to a jeweller, and shortly afterward died. Lady Eustace is now a wealthy titled widow and the mother of the next baronet. But there is one additional bone of contention: the famous Eustace diamonds, worth ten thousand pounds. Lady Eustace lies again to keep them, and refuses the family lawyers when they want to place them in trust. But when the diamonds are stolen, will Lady Eustace's lies expose her in society?
There's a touch of Trollope's commentary on the patriarchy through Lady Eustace's character: she's both ethically bankrupt *and* ignorant of many things, mostly because of the limits of female education in her era. Lizzie's ignorance is an aspect of her character that makes her very different to worldly-wise Becky Sharp; she's led the life of a well-bred woman, and she's been harmed by the ignorance forced on her. Certainly a twenty-first-century, Oxbridge-educated, ethically lacking CEO version of Lizzie Eustace would be able to do a lot more damage, but it's very easy to use the narrative to argue that the ignorance is an injustice done to women in general.
Lady Eustace's ignorance is only highlighted by her intelligence. She is undoubtedly clever and cunning, with a high social position, and even she is hamstrung by a man's world. This encomium may or may not be intended seriously, but here it is from a reasonably reliable character, her brother-in-law:
"She is a very great woman," said John Eustace,—"a very great woman; and, if the sex could have its rights, would make an excellent lawyer."
Lizzie Eustace's ignorance becomes a crucial theme in the plot, and is one of the main reasons why the reader feels sorry for her. She's an awful, unscrupulous, and selfish liar, but she suffers a good deal during the novel. A large part of her suffering is due to her ignorance - which is not her fault.
On the other side of the question, there's not much sympathy available for the lawyers. Their intense dispute about a piece of property seems petty, and it's also more motivated by simple dislike of Lady Eustace than the lawyers want to admit. The Eustace diamonds dispute is between two unsympathetic factions, one of which has an unfair social advantage.
The suspense, mostly as to whether Lizzie Eustace will face any legal penalty for lying to police officers in relation to the robberies or social penalty for trying to steal her cousin from his fiancee, is expertly maintained. I found it a harrowing, exciting read, with plenty of page-turning demanded by the miseries of the characters. The plot and Lady Eustace make the story.
Other than Lizzie Eustace, the characters are fairly limited. Trollope wrote some of them before under other names, such as determined ingenue Lucy Morris and weakly indecisive Frank Greystock. Lucinda Roanoke's part in the story is fascinating and dramatic but deeply restrained: she's a young poor woman with no choice but to marry a man she doesn't love to support herself. Lucinda is reluctant to marry, and her lover, Sir Griffin Tewett, seems very excited about forcing her to submit to him. The subtext here is deeply disturbing, and though it's melodramatic it's also believable. The plot thread suffers from Trollope not allowing himself to go into detail, and/or my inability to interpret the subtext with the full context of the times.
As a minor part of the story, Trollope inserts an interesting self-reference:
The three ladies had a box at the Haymarket taken for this very evening, at which a new piece, "The Noble Jilt," from the hand of a very eminent author, was to be produced. Mrs. Carbuncle had talked a great deal about "The Noble Jilt," and could boast that she had discussed the merits of the two chief characters with the actor and actress who were to undertake them. Miss Talbot had assured her that the Margaret was altogether impracticable, and Mrs. Carbuncle was quite of the same opinion. And as for the hero, Steinmark,—it was a part that no man could play so as to obtain the sympathy of an audience. There was a second hero,—a Flemish Count,—tame as rain-water, Mrs. Carbuncle said.
NOBLE JILT was the precursor to CAN YOU FORGIVE HER, and was probably never put on.
Another fun piece of trivia about the novel is that the legal letter in the novel on the law of heirlooms was requested by Trollope from a friend, Charles Merewether, and became the ruling authority on the subject.
THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS is a strong Trollope. His autobiography favourably records it. His epitaph on the novel is "a series of adventures, unpleasant enough in themselves, but pleasant to the reader" - certainly a fine summation.