The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Phineas Redux Redux--a Re-reading

Phineas Redux long been my favorite of Trollope's Palliser or Parliamentary novels, and, after mining it for my own purposes (my sequel Phineas at Bay carries on the story that reaches its conclusion here), it was nice to go back to this great novel with no agenda.

A couple of thoughts in lieu of a more detailed review:

1. Interestingly, after heightening Madame Max's age in Phineas Finn (PF), Trollope lowers it again here--he makes her younger, describes her in more attractive terms, and generally recasts her as a heroine, without depriving her of her more interesting character aspects. Barbara Murray, who played her in the 1974 adaptation nails the character. It's a magnificent performance.

2. Lizzie Eustace comes off as almost benign in this book--until she realizes that Emilius (whom she has been denouncing in stereotypical terms) has surely murdered Bonteen:
She knew the man who claimed her as his wife, and did not think that Phineas Finn was guilty of the murder. Her Emilius,—her Yosef Mealyus, as she had delighted to call him, since she had separated herself from him,—was, as she thought, the very man to commit a murder. He was by no means degraded in her opinion by the feeling. To commit great crimes is the line of life that comes naturally to some men, and was, as she thought, a line less objectionable than that which confines itself to small crimes. She almost felt that the audacity of her husband in doing such a deed redeemed her from some of the ignominy to which she had subjected herself by her marriage with a runaway who had another wife living. There was a dash of adventure about it which was almost gratifying.
'Myes. So much for benignity.

3. The semi-tamed Lord Chiltern: The development of the relationship between Lord and Lady Chiltern is subtle, but quite effective. His temper is still there, but channeled into his work as Master of the Hunt, and upbraiding the occasional twit (Gerard Maule, I'm looking at you…) They're a happy couple, but recognizably the same people in PF.

4. Chaffanbrass: In the best of his appearances, Chaffanbrass is sly, funny, knowledgeable, and yet touched by Phineas's sincerity. He's a proto-Rumpole in many ways, though Mortimer said he drew Rumpole from life.

5. Phineas himself--in this novel, our friend has all the naiveté pummeled out of him. His learning curve is steep, and he's much less whiny than in the first book (or perhaps it's that his complaints are better founded). He is also far more committed to doing the right thing in this volume, though still desirous of office. Desperation becomes him; this is where he becomes a man, and, unlike John Eames, a man who is not violent, who can stop flitting. (I think that rejecting John Eames shows sense on Lily's part; all through his appearances he wants it both ways and is quite cruel to the women lower than he is in the social scale.) Phineas was unintentionally unthinkingly cruel in PF; here, he tries mightily to avoid that sin, and atone for it.

6. Adelaide and Maule. Boring. Maurice Maule, a little less so. What Dolly Longestaffe could become if he doesn't develop.

7. Phineas & Madame Max: Brilliantly realized throughout. From her caring for the Duke to her business, Madame Max sticks to her decisions. She is also quite credibly unwilling to show her hand a second time to Phineas. But that composed mask comes off in front of Lady Glen (ok, the Duchess). But--and here's what makes her Madame Max--after the outbreak of fear and the tears, she does what she always has--apply that cool, razor sharp mind to the problem, and take action. No useless wailing for Marie--she uses her intellect, cash, and charm to do what she can do.

And Phineas? Unintimidated by her brains, her wealth, her self-sufficiency. This is one of his nicest traits-lots of men in the situation would like the lolly, but find Marie dangerous. Phineas recognizes his luck and their compatibility, and doesn't cavil at their unconventional union--she still runs her business interests, has her own relationships with the Pallisers (much closer than his). Each has a separate sphere of autonomy (his is Parliament) and yet they are fiercely supportive and protective of each other. (In The Duke's Children, she hides the Duke's insult to her she because she knows quite clearly that Phineas will resent it, and damage his own political career, testament to their mutual protectiveness.)

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