Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

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It’s my pleasure to welcome Anthony Trollope to my site as a part of the Anthony Trollope Classics Circuit. Today Mr. Trollope is also visiting It’s All About Books with The Way We Live Now and nomadreader with thoughts on The Warden. See the schedule to see where else he’s visited this week, and if you are interested in participating, sign up for the next tour on the Ancient Greek Classics.

Phineas Finn is a young Irish law student studying in London when a family friend gives him a unique opportunity: a chance to stand for election to Parliament. Phineas Finn: The Irish Member, the second in the “Palliser” novel series by Anthony Trollope, chronicles Mr. Finn’s first five years of political development and personal growth in the high society of British politics.

Although my first Trollope experience, Can You Forgive Her? (thoughts here) left me a little bit cold, reading the second of the novels in the series has warmed me to the first novel. I’m glad to say that I enjoy Trollope, and I anticipate that at some point I’ll reread Can You Forgive Her? to get the full picture again.

Phineas Finn is a novel about personal convictions (Can a politician be honest? Can he be true to himself?). It’s also a novel about British society, especially about the integral role political thought relates to daily life from the upper class to the lower classes.  And, much like the first in the Palliser series, it’s about the relationships Victorian women have with the men in their lives and with the politics from which they are shut out. Just as Can You Forgive Her? has strong women, Phineas Finn has a few strong women taking charge of their lives and opportunities. They were my favorite characters.

Phineas Finn, on the other hand, is a character I am uncertain about. He was a very approachable and personable politician, and I wanted to like him. But, as he flitted from one love interest to another, I found him a bit insufferable. I disliked his attitude towards woman, much as he tried to be liberal and progressive. In general, he was an annoying man to read about. It made me wish to be reading the inner workings of Alice Vavasor’s mind again!

I loved seeing the overlapping characters from Can You Forgive Her? Although this is called a “sequel”, it is a bit more of a parallel sequel, since few characters overlap between the novels. Yet, whenever one of the familiar persons from the first novel appeared, I felt like I was meeting a friend. Glencora Palliser is still a favorite of mine, and I look forward to reading more about the Pallisers in general. (I read summaries on the web and that got me even more excited!)

The novel has a fair amount of political discussion, and the introduction, endnotes, and character listing in the Oxford World Classics edition I own clarify the context for the uninitiated reader, like me. However, I should clarify that I didn’t reference the notes or the introduction until I finished the entire novel. In fact, I read the novel on an ereader.

Given my stress level at this time of year, I let go of any semblance of scholarly reading. I approached it as the novel that it is, and let the details (the names, the political discussions, and the unfamiliar Victorian context) wash over my head. I’m pleased to say that I didn’t like the book any less for that. For, despite the political setting, discussions and background, Phineas Finn is not about politics so much as it is about people, and that is what made me so glad I’d given Trollope another chance.

Please note that I do apologize that my Classics Circuit post is later today than anticipated. I had a home internet connection problem that needed my husband’s attention and my son came home from preschool yesterday with a nasty cough that has left him miserable and needy. It’s just one of those weeks months, apparently.

Reviewed on December 17, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I’ve read a couple of books lately that have characters that are compelling but also problematic–character that I couldn’t stop thinking about even though I had really mixed feelings about them. Madame Bovary was an extreme case–but Trollope seems full of complex characters too, even when he is sketching them gently. Nice review.

    • LifetimeReader, Trollope is full of tons of complex characters, and I love how real everyone is as I read! I’m rereading MADAME BOVARY soon, looking forward to her complexities as well.

  • I don’t know. I keep seeing all these Trollope posts and I’m just not feeling them. I’ve come back to Trollope many times over the last 5 or 6 years and have never made it through a book. I swear I will one day, but I just haven’t found one that sounds like the book for me…

    • Amanda, I can’t always guess other people’s reading preferences, but I will go out on a limb and say neither of the two Trollope novels I have read seem like Amanda books. You’ll just wanted to shoot Mr. Finn in the head, I think. I’ll have to let you know about the other books when I get to them but don’t try the Pallisers….

  • This does sound good! I bought it last year after I started Can You Forgive Her? but I never finished the first in the series so it’s just waiting. I do want to read all the Pallisers but now I’m hooked on the Barsetshire series. Drat Trollope for writing so many books!

    • Karenlibrarian, CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? left me cold about Trollope but now I’ve warmed to even that. I am looking forward to Barsetshire, once I finish the Pallisers, at least….

  • I’ve never read Trollope, but I hope to with my classics project. I have to work up to paying attention to all the extra bits that go with a classic; for now, I’m letting myself just read them as novels, as you say you did with Phineas Finn (what a name!). I’m hoping that, once I learn to enjoy reading the classics, an interest in scholarly reading will spring up!

    • Erin, I think the best sign of a great book is the fact that you DON’T need to pay attention in a scholarly way. You can enjoy it on the surface or you can go deeper. My favorite books are like that, so I do hope you find classics that don’t required deeper reading — so you can have a great experience!

  • I hope your son feels better soon Rebecca! And that your life starts behaving itself again! *hugs*

    And I’m glad your second Trollope experience went so much better. 😀

  • Hello Rebecca. I completely agree that Phineas himself isn’t very endearing, and that the women characters are far more interesting. Trollope probably became fed up with him, too, as he fades from view in the final few Palliser novels.

  • Cold reading has always amazed folks. And what’s not to be very impressed about? Whether or not the person cannot actually read your mind as he could read words in a novel, there’s still something indisputably amazing about a person who can profile you instantly.

  • Much of your experience across two Trollope novels I had compressed into one. But since The Way We Live Now was serialized, he had a chance to change directions, or rather tone. Thank goodness he did.

    Trollope had not been high on my ‘to be read’ list but I’m glad the circuit chose him and enjoyed it. While I want to read more, I’m happy to wait a while and sample others’ summaries and reactions to him.

    • Dwight, I am looking forward to THE WAY WE LOOK NOW. I’m glad to hear that the unsatisfactory parts resolve themselves. I was pretty frustrated by my first Trollope, but I think if I revisited it, understand his tone and the characters, I’d like it a bit more.

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