I enjoyed reading the previous book in the Palliser series so much that I couldn’t wait long to get stuck into this one. It’s all very topical as Trollope was writing about the 1870s Whig (Liberal)-Tory coalition and the problems it caused.
Poor Plantagenet Palliser or the Duke of Omnium as he is now has been given the job of Prime Minister and as the two political factions really hate each other like poison, just as they do now, he isn’t really the right man for the job. Planty is still hankering after decimalisation and reforming the weights and measures system, he doesn’t have the temperament which is needed to keep on the right side of everyone at Westminster. He doesn’t have the gift of being all things to all men (or women) in fact he snubs them inadvertently, and they don’t forget it.
Meanwhile, his wife the duchess aka Lady Glencora has become wildly ambitious, in fact she really thinks that she could run the government better than any of them (don’t we all!). She throws herself into becoming a great political hostess with the intention of making her husband very popular but she tries too hard and ends up being disappointed. Obviously nobody had told her that all political careers end in tears.
Again, Trollope has two very strong women characters, the other one being Emily Wharton. I had always thought that Trollope was very fair minded when it came to women and really ahead of the times regarding women’s freedom of thought and their rights but it didn’t stop him from writing two female characters who are really bad judges of character. Both Glencora and Emily are easily taken in by a handsome face and slick manners. Maybe that was Trollope’s experience of women. Anyway, disaster ensues. I’m fairly sure that my blood pressure took a battering from Ferdinand Lopez’s antics and his wife’s reactions to them!
Although this book was first published in 1876 the themes are all so similar to life at Westminster and in the ‘City’ of today. Ferdinand Lopez is a gambler on the stock exchange and buys and sells commodities which usually don’t even exist. It’s all a con and he uses other people’s money to gamble with. He would fit in well in the financial scene of today.
If you know anything about Victorian politics it’s easy to pick out Mr Gresham as being Gladstone and Daubeney is Disraeli. Topics such as suffrage and political reform are being discussed but as someone said recently, they discuss things in Westminster for 100 -150 years before anything actually happens, as proven by the decimalisation of the currency!
And here we are 150 or so years later in a Liberal-Tory coalition, they still hate each other like poison but it’s supposed to be for the good of the country but in reality they just want to hang on to power. We are back to being ruled by a bunch of old Etonians, just as they were in Trollope’s day, and they think that we (the people) are a bunch of oiks and plebs!
I have to say that it’s much better reading about Trollope’s Westminster rather than the politics of today. I’m going straight on to reading the last one in the series, The Duke’s Children.
I’m obviously not the only person to be reminded of the Victorian Whig/Tory coalition.