1815: Anthony Trollope - Palliser series III: The Eustace Diamonds
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In this novel, the third in Trollope's Palliser series, the Pallisers (and politics, for that matter) barely make an appearance, but when Lady Glencora and her crowd enter they brings a breath of fresh air to a book largely filled with grasping, greedy, scheming, and unpleasant characters.
As the novel opens, Lizzie Greystock, a "clever" girl who loves jewelry, marries Sir Florian Eustace, who soon dies, leaving her, for her lifetime, a castle in Scotland and the income from his land. But did he, or indeed could he, leave her the Eustace diamonds, a spectacular necklace which Lizzie has some unscrupulous jewelers value at 10,000 pounds, or are they an heirloom or the property of his estate, either of which means they would belong to Sir Florian's posthumous son? On this question, the first part of the novel turns, as Lizzie stoutly claims Florian gave them to her (indeed, put them around her neck!), but Mr. Camperdown, the lawyer for the Eustaces, and others, believe them to be an heirloom. After a decent interval, Lizzie becomes engaged to Lord Fawn (who readers of Phineas Finn will remember), who instructs her to return the diamonds to Mr. Camperdown for safe-keeping while the matter is resolved. Needless to say, Lizzie refuses, and begins to set her sights on other possible husbands. As Trollope tells us, and as we see for ourselves, Lizzie is a liar, not very good much of the time, but a liar through and through.
At the same time, Trollope tells us the story of Lucy Morris, who is everything that Lizzie is not: honest, hard-working, plain, without a suspicious bone in her body. (Lucy is, in fact, a boring character, not one of Trollope's excellent female creations.) She works as a governess for the Fawn family (Lord Fawn's mother and bevy of sisters, all of whom love Lucy) and is in love with Frank Greystock, a cousin of Lizzie's. She and Lizzie had formerly been friends, but Lucy and she grow distant because of Lizzie's grasping ways. Eventually, Frank proposes to Lucy, and she of course is ecstatic. However, Lizzie and Frank are very close; she turns to Frank for advice, and more, as she begins to think of him as a future husband. Frank needs money, and Lucy can offer him none, while Lizzie has her 4000 pound annual income.
Once the stage is set, a lot of action ensues, including two attempts, one successful, to steal the diamonds. There are a lot of complications, because everyone at first believes the first, dramatic, attempt was itself successful, and Lizzie does nothing to deny this, even though she had taken the necklace out of the iron box in which she kept it. Ultimately, she tells the truth to another potential suitor, Lord George, who she thinks of as her "corsair" (Lizzie longs for poetry and romance in her life, but has only the slimmest acquaintance with the poetry she reads and keeps with her).
This being Trollope, there are lots of secondary characters and subplots, including the vile Mrs. Carbuncle who is first a guest at Lizzie's Scottish castle and then allows Lizzie to live with her in London (for a price). Mrs. Carbuncle is trying to marry off her niece, Lucinda, who is my favorite new character in the book, for she is lively and has a mind of her own; this attempt, which Lucinda rejects strenuously, ends tragically. Then there is Mr. Emilius, a most prominent preacher who, rumor has it, started life in eastern Europe as a Jew, and not only converted but became an Anglican minister; he, like many of the other characters, schemes after his own advancement. The various policemen investigating the burglaries, and the burglars themselves, provide an enjoyable subplot as well, but there are way too many characters for me to discuss them all here.
In this novel, Trollope explores truth and deception, as well as the need to marry for money (even the few likable characters take this for granted), the power that men hold over women since women basically have no rights (in this sense, Lizzie has few options, although she certainly tricks and schemes her way in the world), and the way society accommodates to this. In fact, the men in this novel all have serious flaws, perhaps even more than the women, but society accepts this and castigates the women.
I cannot avoid noting the antisemitism in this novel, obviously a reflection of the times, but more apparent in this book than in others by Trollope I've read. Mr. Emilius, an obviously seedy character, was born Jewish, and the dishonest jewelers are referred to as Jews, among other antisemitic references. It is unpleasant, but of course antisemitism itself is more unpleasant, and dangerous too.
All in all, I didn't like this book as much as others by Trollope that I've read, but it certainly raised some interesting issues.
First published 1872
There have been several excellent reviews of The Eustace Diamonds posted on LT recently, so I will dispense with summarizing the plot of this novel, the third in Trollope's "Palliser" series. I found it to be very enjoyable, if a bit slow at times, and peopled with the usual insightful and believable cast of Trollope characters.
Some reviewers have remarked that there are few very likable characters in the novel. Trollope himself is often very harsh in the judgments he passes on his heroine, Lizzie Eustace. I found Lizzie more appealing than not. She is very young, still, and in need of a guiding hand, but she knows this as well as anyone. It is her misfortune that all the men in her life think of her only as a beautiful face appended to an income of £4,000. Of course Lizzie, herself, married Sir Florian Eustace for his money, so in her widowhood she should expect her suitors to be just as mercenary as she was.
The theme of marriage and inheritance dominates 19th century English literature, and The Eustace Diamonds is certainly no exception. Trollope writes, as usual, with particular sympathy to the woman's predicament when it comes to money and marriage. A woman with money will lose control of it when she marries, so it behooves her to marry a man with a title so she at least gets something in return for her wealth. This is what Glencora Palliser has done (albeit reluctantly) in Can You Forgive Her?, and it is what Lizzie Eustace attempts to do with her engagement to Lord Fawn.
One of the benefits of reading the Palliser series is that I am finally beginning to understand what the sport of fox hunting is all about. Though it's cruel to the foxes, the horses, and the farmers whose crops get trampled, there is no denying that Trollope's description made the hunting scenes very thrilling and suspenseful.
Another aspect to the novel is that it is a rudimentary detective story. Trollope seems to downplay that aspect of the novel, revealing secrets long before Scotland Yard has learned them, but it is interesting to see that the case of the stolen diamonds is largely solved by giving immunity to the lesser criminals in order to catch the greater ones.
I don't need to recommend The Eustace Diamonds to anyone who has read the first two installments of "Palliser." You know what to expect from Anthony Trollope. This is a novel that could stand on its own and be read out of sequence, but I see no reason to do so.
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