Having finished my third epic-length Anthony Trollope novel (the third in the Palliser series), I’m beginning to think I’m not really a fan of Mr. Trollope’s writing style. His novels have wonderfully constructed and carefully developed plots. The characters are well rounded and personable; I feel I know them upon finishing a novel, and therefore it’s fun to see the recurring characters throughout the series. Nevertheless, the novels all seem to miss something spectacular that makes me want to jump up and pull the next one off the shelf.
The Eustace Diamonds (published serially in 1871) concerns different characters from the previous two books in the Palliser series, although Glencora Palliser does have a few cameos in London society (from the first two novels) and Mr and Mrs Grey (from Can You Forgive Her?) appear once. One needn’t have read the first two novels to enjoy this one, as there is no connecting storyline between the three novels.
In The Eustace Diamonds, lying and scheming Lizzie Greystock manages to secure a rich, ailing husband. When he dies, she, as dowager Lady Eustace, claims the Eustace family diamonds as her own, creating a scandalous scene in London society. With her good looks, she also works on ensnaring a second husband, courting four or five eligible gentleman in her quest for social acceptance. She is careful to work everything to her favor, and as a reader, one cannot but despise her tricky ways. Matters concerning the necklace are complicated over time, adding a degree of intrigue into the situation.
Meanwhile, her cousin Frank Greystock becomes a part of the mess. For most of the novel, I liked Frank Greystock. He was a well rounded character in that he was both likeable and he had plenty of failings. There was one particular time when I wanted to hit him, and promptly Anthony Trollope, in his signature way, gave the reader a lecture as to why we should not judge the characters in novels for doing things people do in real life. Thank you, Mr. Trollope, for dictating how I should read the novel. It was quite interesting timing given my frustrations with Frank at that particular point in the novel.
Frank Greystock’s sweetheart, the impoverished governess Lucy Morris, was a dutiful woman who I sometimes got a little frustrated with. She wasn’t a strong, opinionated Glencora Palliser, nor a selfish woman taking advantage of her situations as was Lizzie Eustace. Rather, given her disadvantaged state of life amidst the rich social scene in London, it probably was quite realistic for her to be submissive. I feel grateful once again that I am not a woman in Victorian London!
The Eustace Diamonds was a satisfying read, although it is difficult to summarize why. Everything wrapped up nicely (almost too nicely) and while I wouldn’t want to spend another 800 pages with Lizzie Eustace, the story we had was enough to feel both satisfied and not overly annoyed. I wish Lizzie Eustace good riddance!
I find myself interested in reading the next book in the series (which returns to Phineas Finn’s story in Parliament), but at the same time I feel exhausted having read Trollope’s take on Lizzie’s story. His style just is not engaging and exciting to me. I feel he’s outlined the characters, plot, and setting almost too carefully to be considered superb. And while his writing is certainly well done given how connected I feel to the characters and the London society described, I feel lectured to as I read. I suspect that Mr Trollope and I will never be best friends.