The timing of my work on the novel has been fortuitous; the Trollope Society, of which I am a member, hosts an annual fall lecture. This year's, on October 8 in Manhattan, is remarkably apropos:
“Phineas Finn and the Bildungsroman” is the title of our 2013 Annual lecture, by Prof. Nicholas Birns, The New School.The link between Phineas and Branson in Downton Abbey is suggestive, but I think that Trollope's Phineas, rooted in his own experience in Ireland, and in the reality of Irish politicians like Sir John Pope Hennessy (believed by the latter's grandson to have been the model for Phineas) is more deeply rooted in reality.
Professor Birns, who was so captivating this past February in discussing La Vendee at our Mid-Winter Reception, has agreed to return as the Annual Lecture speaker. His subject will include both Phineas books — Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux — as well as cameo appearances in the last two Palliser books.
As Prof. Birns puts it: “One can ask: how and why did Trollope split the Phineas story into two books, with the second book also finishing the Lizzie Eustace story? What does it mean formally for the Bildungsroman to be spliced into a roman-fleuve like the Palliser series? The Bildungsroman changes when it is set in a complex, modernizing mid-Victorian society — as opposed to some thing like David Copperfield, written in the Victorian era but really set in the earlier era of Dickens’ childhood, in a simpler and less diversified milieu. Is Trollope’ s portrait of an Irish Catholic becoming socially acceptable in British society accurate or as it a kind of fairy tale, somewhat like Branson in Downton Abbey? Why is Phineas one of Trollope’s most appealing characters? Did Trollope see himself in Phineas, despite the manifest differences? (Most Bildungsromans are about characters roughly based on the author). We can also talk about other instances of the Bildungsroman in Trollope: The Claverinqs, the entire idea of the “hobbledehoy”, and instances of the Trollope’s female Bildungroman (Lady Anna? Can You Forgive Her?)”
I look forward to Professor Birns' lecture; an expert on Trollope and Anthony Powell? Most promising.
By the bye, for those who think that writing sequels to Trollope is an abomination before the Lord? Msgr. Ronald Knox beat me to it, with a sequel to the Barset novels--published by the Trollope Society in a handsome edition...