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Julian Meynell's Books

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Trollope's Phineas Finn

Phineas Finn - Anthony Trollope, John Sutherland

I know a lot of people who like Trollope for an author who has fallen into some level of obscurity.  I have only read one of his novels prior to this, The Warden, which I thought was only OK.  This novel was barely OK and I am not sure why it has lasted.

The book is about politics and was written in the immediate wake of the second reform bill which was a very important and interesting time in British politics.  Trollope gets the political machinations correct, is usually on the right side of history, although there is much that was conservative about him, but manages to utterly not convey the stakes which were very high.   While it is on its surface a 19th century social novel, like many of the novels of Dickens, Zola, Hardy , etc, it does not convey the stakes.  The characterization is fairly decent, but the characters are not hugely interesting, with the exception of Lady Violet Effingham who is a very modern and interesting character and who I wish the novel was about.  Trollope's prose is decent but uninspired.

The eponymous hero is in the spirit of the 18th century affable social climber (the most famous example being Tom Jones).  While he espouses principles, he does not live by them until the end.  He has many women who are interested in him, because of his likability but being a 19th century novel there are no tumbles in the hay.  He is a strange character to focus a supposedly serious novel of ideas on, because he is mostly a person who things happen to.  The woman he ends up with is the dullest of the four, but befits his social class and background and is an example of the novels subtle conservatism.

All in all, while there is nothing to hate here, there is nothing to get excited about either.  Trollope almost fell into obscurity.  I am not quite sure why he didn't.  With 19th century novelists of genius being everywhere, especially in Britain, I do not know why he has been preserved.  It is not so much that he is bad, as that he is a bit boring.  I kept wondering, why I wasn't reading some of the Dickens that I haven't read instead.