Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

I’m steadily working my way through Trollope’s Pallisers, this being the fourth book in the series, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it all. In fact I’m having to make myself take a rest in between them and read something completely different (and less of a chunkster) otherwise it would be ages before I was ‘living’ outside 19th century Britain.

As you will realise from the title, Phineas Finn makes a comeback to Westminster via the constituency of Tankerville where he is eventually proclaimed as their MP after the vote was scrutinised and his opponent was found to have been bribing voters.

Although he doesn’t like the look of the place or its inhabitants he’s glad to be able to be part of the life of Westminster again, despite the fact that he is having to live off his savings as of course in those times MPs weren’t paid a wage, politics was really a rich man’s pastime. Phineas is hoping to gain a ministerial post as ministers were paid, but things don’t go well for him and he has such a quick temper and he takes offence so easily that it’s inevitable that he falls foul of enemies who are out to get him.

Well, that’s about as much as I’m going to say about the storyline, except to say that it did take a completely unexpected turn – for me anyway. I haven’t seen the Pallisers on TV so it’s all new to me.

In this book and the previous one there has been a lot written about Plantagenet Palliser, who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, trying to get decimalisation of the currency through the House of Commons. This was a huge surprise to me when I first read it because decimalisation didn’t take place in the UK until 1971, when I was in primary 7. We were all given dummy sets of the new coins in plastic so that we would be used to them when they were minted. You can see what the old coins looked like here.

I was quite amazed to discover through Trollope that decimalisation was mooted as far back as Victorian times. I had a bit of a search and discovered it being spoken of in Hansard on 12th,June 1855. So it took over 100 years from then for the system to be changed to what is definitely a simpler way of calculating things but I must admit that I’m one of the generation who still thinks of prices in ‘real’ money, so I still find myself saying occasionally something like: Flip! That cauliflower is 30 bob in real money! In other words 30 shillings – or £1.50 in decimal coinage.

Planty Palliser or the Duke as I must now call him was exasperated as he didn’t know what to do about the farthings as five farthings wouldn’t fit into an old penny. That was no problem in 1971 because farthings had been abolished by then as being too worthless to bother about. A certain person sitting not too far from me now can remember being charged tuppence three farthings for something, it must have been sweeties surely. I bet shop workers were glad to be rid of them, it’s such a lot to have to say – for so little.

10 thoughts on “Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

  1. I think the two Phineas books are my favorites among the Palliser novels. I like watching him grow up and into his place in Parliament – and then the other characters are so fun, especially Madame Max and the Chilterns.

    • Lisa,
      The Phineas books are my favourites too and I’m sure that things at Westminster haven’t changed much since then. There is quite a lot of comedy in the books, not just daft names and I like Madame Max too although I had been imagining her to be about 40 (or in her prime!) so I was surprised when she turned out to be a few years younger than Lady Laura.

  2. I just love the name Phineas Finn! If I ever get another dog I shall get a male and name him that and call him Finn! I will have to read these books someday, the series was wonderful. My your coinage is confusing! I think ours is a lot simpler.

    • Peggy Ann,
      Phineas Finn wil be a brilliant name for a dog, just don’t get him too soon or you won’t be able to travel much! Our money system is now very similar to yours with everything being multiples of 10 instead of the 12 it used to be. We have 100 pennies in a pound, just like your cents and dollars.

      • Peggy Ann,
        Absolutely! I was thinking that the dog should really be an Irish Setter or a Wolfhound, mind you I wouldn’t like to have to feed a wolfhound – or clean up after it!

  3. Whoa! That money talk made my head spin, but it is really fascinating.I always learn something completely unexpected from your blog, Katrina!
    This sounds like another great Trollope!

    • Anbolyn,
      It seemed quite confusing when looking back at that system but schoolkids managed it so it wasn’t difficult, you just had to know your multiplication tables up to 12. The decimal system we have now is so much easier though. I hope you’re having a good time on holiday!

  4. I never can follow British coinage in books or TV. I remember a bit in A Room with a View when Aunt Charlotte needs change for her taxi driver. I agree with Anbolyn, makes my head spin!

    Still haven’t read the Pallisers yet but I read a few pages of The Small House at Allington today on my phone, which is probably one page in an actual book — we were waiting at the car dealership and I’d foolishly left my current read at home. A little slow getting started, I have no idea what the book is going to be about yet. Must be patient.

    • Karen K,
      You would have found it easy if you had to use it. I’m slightly confused with US money as I’m not sure what an American penny is although I think I have nickels and dimes sorted out!

      I read The Small House at Allington some years ago – pre blogging. I don’t think it was a favourite of mine but it’s good to complete the series. I hate it when I’m caught out with nothing to read and I’m stuck in a queue, despite trying to be organised it still happens to me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.