As we are to move to Cheshire, it’s nice to have a record of our splendid garden coming into its own from the very beginning of the year…there are great views from all windows and angles, and something of interest at all times of year.
‘The Flesh of the Orchid’. I must have bought this for the cover, many moons ago! A racy, pacy, totally American, totally unbelievable, thriller from James Hadly Chase which was devoured in no time at all over a couple of night’s bed-time reading. Just the thing for late night reading but, having finished it, the only question was ‘What was that all about then?’ Shallow characters, murders too many to count, chase after chase. Did I really read such rubbish? Well yes and it was quite enjoyable.
Having so enjoyed the first Trollope Palliser novel ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ I just had to read ‘Phinneas Finn’, the follow up. The plot summary by the Trollope Society is as follows……
‘Phineas Finn, a young Irishman just admitted to the bar, was elected to Parliament from Loughshane through the support of his father’s old friend Lord Tulla.
His genial temperament soon won him many highly placed friends in London society, among them Lady Laura Standish. Although Phineas was in a sense committed to marry a childhood sweetheart, Mary Jones, he fell in love with Lady Laura. She, however, had sacrificed her fortune to pay the debts of her brother Lord Chiltern, and valued her position in society above her romantic love for Phineas. She was deeply and intelligently interested in politics and the maintenance of a salon needed money and position, and she found both in the person of Robert Kennedy,a wealthy MP representing a group of Scottish boroughs.
In Lady Laura’s circle of friends, Violet Effingham stood nearest to her, and when Phineas sought to marry her Lady Laura was bitterly angry, not only because she considered that he was being untrue to her, but that she wished Violet to marry Lord Chiltern. Violet did in fact love him, but his violent temper and manner of life did not seem to insure her happiness. When Lord Chiltern learned that Phineas was his rival, he challenged him and a duel was fought in Belgium, with no serious results. Both men were soon sensible of their folly, and shortly after they became reconciled Violet accepted Chiltern.
Phineas, by taking a government post to enable him to pay his way in London, lost his seat in Loughshane, and through the good offices of Lady Laura was offered Loughton, her father’s pocket-borough. His career seemed assured until from a matter of principle he voted against his colleagues on a bill for tenant right in Ireland, and was forced to resign. In the meantime, life with the harsh and priggish Mr. Kennedy had become impossible for the high-spirited Lady Laura. She rejoined her father and eventually, to escape her husband’s demand that she return to him, went into exile at Dresden.
Mme. Max Goesler, a wealthy and charming widow, interested herself in securing another seat for Phineas and, when he refused to allow her to finance the cost of the election, offered to put him in possession of her great fortune by their marriage. This he was too proud to accept and, discouraged by the net result of his years in Parliament, returned to Ireland where he married Mary Jones.’
Trollope’s own views were somewhat surprising to say the least……..”It is all fairly good except the ending, – as to which till I got to it I had made no provision. As I fully intended to bring my hero again into the world, I was wrong to marry him to a simple pretty Irish girl, who could only be felt as an encumbrance on such return. When he did return I had no alternative but to kill the simple pretty Irish girl, which was an unpleasant and awkward necessity.”!! Wow.
Hugely long, hugely enjoyable but as with his other books in the series easily readable as it was written for serialisation. I thought I might read a chapter at a time, like the original Victorian readers, but I found that I wanted more and inevitably read two or three each night. I think Trollope is just an amazing writer. His direct approaches to the reader – in asides in his own voice – are so much like the pieces to camera which film directors seem now to have established as an art form. They must be based on a reading of Trollope, or so I like to think. Characters so strongly drawn you really care about them. It is just incredible that Trollope wrote so much whilst holding down a full-time job. What a man.
‘Einstein’s Riddle’ is….’riddles, paradoxes and conundrums to stretch your mind’. It is divided into sections headed ‘Logic and probability’, ‘When reasoning goes wrong’, ‘The real world’, ‘Motion, infinity and vagueness’, ‘Philosophical conundrums’ and ‘Paradoxical all the way down’. We get involved in the toughest logic problems, lateral thinking puzzles, and tests of mental agility. By turns entertaining and infuriating, I really enjoyed pitting my wits with some superb problems. Exceptionally involving.
The Folio set of Trollope political novels has been sitting on my shelves unread for, what, 15 years. Just to look at the 6 meaty volumes, and even though I am after all retired, it seemed a daunting prospect. However I have read and re-read the Barchester Chronicles by Trollope several times, so I thought let’s give it a go. ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ is the first in the series. Although long (even ardent admirers and critics have said so) , the chapter lengths are such that one can easily get through 2 or 3 just before sleep. That is because, like Dickens, he wrote for serial publication in the first instance.
Here is the plot summary by eminent literary critic Prof John Sutherland…
‘Alice Vavasor is a 24-year old mature woman of character and beauty (with a mere fortune of £400 p.a.). She has two suitors. One is her Byronic cousin, George Vavasor – a ‘wild man’. The other is John Grey, an honest but unexciting ‘worthy man’. Which should Alice accept?
George killed a break-in burglar as a child, and has a Cain-like scar on his handsome face. Alice was earlier engaged to the wild man but jilted him, thinking him (rightly) too wild. He has loosely conceived political ambitions and is a ‘radical’.
Alice, engaged to John as the novel opens, declines to ‘name the day’. It will be the most important day of her life, but also the day on which her ‘freedom’ will end. She, and all her property, will, thereafter, belong to her husband along with that declarative ‘I do’ (the Anglican wedding service, at this period, contained the woman’s promise to ‘obey’).
Alice, after an ill-advised holiday with George in Switzerland, jilts John. But George, in the ensuing long engagement, goes entirely to the bad. His business and political ambitions fail. He is disinherited and brutally assaults his sister, Kate, who has devoted her life (and her own chances of marriage) to advancing his career. He attempts to murder Grey and finally skulks out of England, a ruined man (he is revealed to have had, all the time he was engaged to Alice, a common mistress). John reassumes the fiance’s role.
A parallel plot follows the affairs of Plantagenet Palliser, heir apparent to the Duke of Omnium, and Lady Glencora McCluskie, heiress to a Scottish industrial fortune. Their arranged marriage is doubly threatened. First by childlessness and more seriously by Glencora’s infatuation with the ‘godlike’ Burgo Fitzgerald. Burgo drinks, gambles, and is penniless. But he is ‘beautiful’ and Plantagenet is anything but beautiful. The fact that he is a good man does not outweigh that fact. Burgo sets up an elopement which Plantagenet foils in a dramatic ballroom scene.
On a lower, comic, level Alice’s aunt, Arabella Greenow, also has her two suitors. One is a stolid Norfolk farmer, the other a raffish military man. She chooses the latter ‘because he is better looking’. The narrative examines, from three angles, permutations of marriage for prudence or marriage for passion. Always the woman’s choice. At the end of the novel the three heroines are happily married and Plantagenet has an heir for the duchy of Omnium.’
John Sutherland thinks this novel is all about ‘power’. I think it is, as so often with Trollope, about weak and strong personalities, social position, money problems and ‘will she or won’t she?’ It is also very much about the importance of England itself at this time. Here is John Sutherland again…..
The opening sentence of Can You Forgive Her?, with its relaxed ‘clubman’ tone, conveys the sense of a novelist serenely confident about where power in England resides:
Whether or no, she, whom you are to forgive, if you can, did or did not belong to the Upper Ten Thousand of this our English world, I am not prepared to say with any strength of affirmation.
Ten thousand people in England – the most powerful nation in the world – have the levers of power, prestige, and patronage in their hand. ‘Big People’, Trollope calls them. Trollope was, he felt, not yet a ‘big person’, but not far off it.
It was a matter of authorial pride with Trollope that (unlike, say, his fellow novelist Wilkie Collins), ‘when I sit down to write a novel I do not at all know, and I do not very much care, how it is to end.’ He let his fiction happen, in his famous ‘before breakfast’ early morning stints.’
I have to report that, as I suspected but was unwilling to test for so long, this was just as involving as Barchester. I was gripped with the characters and their development and didn’t mind the lack of plot as such. Really, really, really if you want to know about the tight-knit world of Victorian upper middle-class and high society, Trollope is your man. Great stuff. And I was only a little surprised to hear that lead singer of the Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant, wrote the song Can You Forgive Her? in 1992 after reading Trollope’s novel whilst on holiday.
So, whilst Stephen King might poke fun at the book’s length, joking that for modern audiences a more appropriate title might be Can You Possibly Finish It?, I beg to differ. It’s a book I couldn’t put down.