The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, March 6, 2015

Letter to the NYT Book Review On Marriage, Trollope & Phineas at Bay

From the letters page of the New York Times Book Review:
Bookends: Marriage

To the Editor:

I enjoyed Charles McGrath’s penetrating analysis of the marriage of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser, later the Duke of Omnium (Bookends, Feb. 15), but was surprised he did not point out how Trollope sets their marriage in counterpoint to the much less conventional pairing of Marie “Madame Max” Goesler and Phineas Finn. That happy couple constitutes a rare instance of a Victorian novelist celebrating the union of two outsiders — a Viennese Jewish widow and an Irish Roman Catholic — who become insiders, and their story takes center stage in two of the six novels.

The continuing fortunes and misfortunes of Phineas, Marie, the Duke and other characters from the Palliser books have become the subject of an intriguing follow-up novel, John Wirenius’s recently published "Phineas at Bay," set roughly 10 years after the end of the series. Wirenius’s book not only continues the story but fleshes out Trollope’s hints regarding the marriage of Marie and Phineas in a credible way, as well as providing an amusing subplot featuring everyone’s favorite adventuress, Lizzie Eustace (who made off with the eponymous diamonds in Book 3 of the series), and her former husband Joseph Emilius, who is not, as it turns out, quite as former as Lizzie thinks.

“Phineas at Bay” also movingly depicts the Duke’s life after his children are all married, and how he ultimately comes to terms with life after Lady Glencora’s death. Like Tolstoy, Trollope paints on a broad canvas and gives us characters who are first, last and always true to the drives and motivations their creator envisioned as he constructed them as lively and vivid individuals.

That's awfully nice to see in print, and I can only quote Michelle Gomez's Missy, "That is a good point well made. I'm proud of you, sister."

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