Always a pleasure to read a Folio Society edition, and Phineas Redux the fourth in the series of six Palliser or ‘Parliamentary’ novels is by common acclaim one of the best of Trollope’s extensive writings. He certainly appears at the top of his powers, whether in his descriptions of riding to hounds (one of his own favourite things) or his semi-satirical take-offs of some of the great issues of the day particularly the Disestablishment of the Church in Ireland and the Reform of the political system. He also appears a prophet before his time in his sub-plots involving the possible introduction of decimalisation and the positioning and powers of the monarch in a constitutional crisis. Having said all of this, Trollope as usual develops all these themes around the life and loves of his main character, and Romance plays an equal part to Politics. His characters are very strongly drawn and in a novel of some 700 pages we get to know them well! A large part of the second half of the book concerns the court case where Phineas is accused of attempted murder, and Trollope revels in his taking to pieces of the legal system as it existed. So, not only is Phineas Redux a page-turner, it is a detailed and extensive commentary on the constitutional, political and social life of Victoria England and in that equal to the efforts of Dickens. Only two more novels to go. Far more demanding of time and concentration than War and Peace!
Because we are in the middle of selling our home and hope to move to the North West, I have bought second-hand copies of two excellent books ‘The Treasures of Lancashire’ and ‘The Treasures of Cheshire’. These are very detailed portrayals of the two counties in terms of the countryside and towns, which are described succinctly and well, and the treasures therein, with emphasis on the churches, public buildings and houses to be found. I must say that I took great pleasure in reading these minutely and I discovered so much new about areas I know well enough. Not only have the two books strengthened how much I am looking forward to moving, they have directed my attention to considering alternative locations for our new home. These books weren’t available new any more and I only paid between £3 and £4 each. A real bargain.
For some light relief, as both the Trollope and the guides were demanding of concentration, I have been re-reading ‘Engel’s England’. His book is not a gazetteer, he explains, “nor a guidebook, nor a compendium of England’s best anything”. It is, rather, he claims, a celebration of “the most beautiful and fascinating country on Earth”, though even the determinedly upbeat Engel cannot avoid an Anglo tone of loss and melancholy. “By way of subtext,” he notes in passing, “I visited all 41 (Anglican) cathedrals and lit a candle to my late son in each.” But that in no way gets in the way of his genuine desire to see what makes the different counties tick, and to find the quirky or humorous things that will both amuse us and inform at the same time. This he does in spades and very funny he is more often than not. He is warm, human, funny and cutting at times. The sort of man who would be interesting to talk to in the local pub, knows a lot, plenty to say, empathetic and probably very willing to stand you a pint or two. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip around England in his company (as I did the first time).