Thursday, 15 November 2001

Anthony Trollope: The Prime Minister (1875-6)

Edition: Oxford, 1983
Review number: 994

The fifth Palliser novel is one of Trollope's longer, and, as is customary in the series, combines its political plotlines with a romantic subplot, the political plot relating to the other parts of the series and the romantic one specific to this novel. The latter is more interesting than the time spent by Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium, as Prime Minister, even if it is that which provides the novel's title. The most memorable aspect of the Palliser Ministry is that its leader is reluctant and does not enjoy his position at all.

In the other plot, Trollope introduces a scoundrel rather like Melmotte in The Way We Live Now. Ferdinand Lopez is a penniless adventurer who uses other people's money in dangerous speculation; even worse, to some of the characters, is that he is foreign and Jewish despite a fa├žade of the English gentleman. (Trollope has occasionally been accused of anti-Semitism because of characters like Lopez, but he was interested in the reactions of society to Jews rather than in attacking them.) He manages to marry an heiress, the innocent Emily Wharton, against the wishes of her family, but eventually his schemes overreach themselves when he runs as a candidate for Parliament. What is interesting about his character is that as an outsider he doesn't understand conventions of society, but that he continually attributes his failures to the enmity and bad faith of others, and thus the results of his actions bring out the worst in him.

The structure of the novel is dominated by Lopez, but in the end the conventional happy outworking of the Lopez/Wharton plot is subdued by the fall of the Palliser Ministry. This makes it one of Trollope's better novels, but the many references to the earlier members of the Palliser series mean that it shouldn't be read on its own.

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