Trollope’s “Phineas Finn”

Remember those times I reviewed Anthony Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? and Barchester Towers? Well, Can You Forgive Her? was the first part of a 6-part series called The Palliser Novels about aristocracy and parliament. The second of this series is a book called Phineas Finn which deals with some of the same characters (thankfully not the incredibly annoying Alice or her suitors. He left that dumbass by the wayside, and I am not complaining).

Phineas Finn is an 1868 novel about a young Irishman by that name who joins English parliament. All the book jackets say it is a tale of the socio-governmental struggles in mid-Victorian political life in a behind-the-scenes glance at Great Britain's ruling citizens.

Yeah, that's great. What the book jacket SHOULD say is that Phineas Finn is an exercise in bringing out that small part of my psyche that could develop into a serial killer. EVERYONE IN THIS BOOK MUST DIE. If I could dump a bunch of African killer bees into this plot, I would do it in a heartbeat.

You see, Anthony Trollope writes the most dithering characters I've ever had the misfortune to read. The "most" in terms of both quantity and magnitude. He introduces a cast of 5-10 main characters per book, and then each of them finds something to hem and haw over (usually whom they should marry) for the next 700 pages. It is PAINFUL. Trollope is like the abusive boyfriend I keep coming back to. Every time I read one, I think, "WHY DO I KEEP DOING THIS TO MYSELF?" and then a few months later, I'm like, "Gee, you know what sounds like a great idea? The next book in the series."

Y'all, I read this crap SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO.

Okay, so Phineas is a young, handsome Irishman who really wants to get into English politics and has this amazing opportunity to do so. He jumps at it, but also realizes that he is from a very middle class family and can't afford the insane lifestyle and campaigning costs, so he should probably find a rich wife. Thankfully, he is one charming MOFO and everyone just loves him, because the Irish are always handsome and charming in Victorian novels, unless they're drunks or dirty, dirty Catholics. He meets a lot of influential people, including Lady Laura, who has a brilliant political mind and is a great socialite hostess.

Lady Laura has a brother named Lord Chiltern and a rich best friend named Violet. She is also slightly acquainted with Madame Max Goesler, a beautiful, exotic young widow with some mad cash-monies. So Phineas is up to his EYEBALLS in biddies, and he totally forgets about his main squeeze back home, Mary (of course her name is Mary), who is sweet but poor. Mary is one of those vapid women who populate so much of Victorian fiction. She stays in the background wringing her hands and being gentle and kind and boring. PERFECT WIFE MATERIAL.

So, okay, here we go:

Phineas: My political career is taking off, Lady Laura has taken me under her wing and I think she might be rich. PRESTO! I love her. Hey, Lady Laura, do you want to get married?

Scarlett O'Hara Lady Laura: Nah, I decided to marry Mr. Kennedy for his money because I'm actually fairly poor. It's going to be awesome.

Mr. Kennedy: Dearest wife, now that we are married, please look over this 2,000-item list of things you are no longer allowed to do. At the top of the list is "Have fun". Things you ARE allowed to do can be summed up in the following three items: 1.) "Your duty as my wife." 2.) "Go to church." 3.) "Sit quietly in a corner and watch me open my mail."

[Guys, I'm not making this up. Those are the three things he is okay with.]

Lady Laura: This suuuuuuuucks. I should have married Phineas. Even though I don't love him. Do I? No, I don't. But I might. But no, he's just a friend who I'm going to help with his political career.

Phineas: Hey, Lady Laura, I think I love your rich friend Violet now. Want to help me get with her?

Lady Laura: But but but you were just barely in love with me! And also, I wanted Violet to get together with my brother, Chiltern so our family can have her money because she and Chiltern are destined to be together, even though she doesn't love him. But she loves him. But she doesn't love him. But she loves him. And that's why they are made for each other.

Phineas: So you're saying that I have a chance with her? Great! Bye!

Lady Laura: Oh, crap, now that you don't love me any more, I think I love you. No, I don't. Yes, I do. No, I don't.


Chiltern: Hey, Violet, want to marry me?

Violet: No. Frankly, you're a drunk, a gambler, and I'm worried that you might be abusive.

Chiltern: Want to marry me?

Violet: No.

Chiltern: Want to marry me?

Violet: No.

Chiltern: VERY WELL. I WILL NEVER ASK YOU AGAIN. Hey, Phineas, be my new best friend. Also, I've asked Violet to marry me three times and she said no, and I will never ask her again. I am implying she is fair game.

Phineas: Cool. Hey, Violet, want to marry me?

Violet: No.

Phineas: Is that a maybe?

Violet: It's a no.

Phineas: Hey, Chiltern, I tried to ask Violet to marry me, but no luck.


Phineas: But but but you said that you'd never ask her again and I thought–

Chiltern: You were my brother, Anakin! We must duel now.

[They take a vacation to Belgium together so they can duel on a beach. For real.]

Phineas: Are we cool now?

Chiltern: Swear you'll never ask Violet to marry you again.

Phineas: But if she doesn't want to marry you, I think I still have a shot. She's turned you down three times, but only turned me down twice.

Chiltern: GTFO.

Phineas: Are we cool?

Chiltern: No.

Phineas: Are you sure we're not cool?

Chiltern: Yeah, fine, whatever, we're cool.


Lady Laura: Hey, Phineas, come meet Madame Max Goesler. She's awesome and rich and will be a valuable social contact for you.

Madame Max: Let's be friends forever, with lots of sexual tension between us. But it's cool, because I am never ever under no circumstances ever going to get married again.

Phineas: Cool, let's be friends. I'm attracted to you. No, I'm not. Yes, I am. No, I'm not.

The Duke of Omnium: Hey, Madame Max, you are totally hot. Want to come be a duchess? I'm seventy years old and need a wife.

Madame Max: Mmmm, tempting. I want to be a duchess. No, I don't. Yes, I do. No, I don't. Sorry, Duke, but I will never marry again. EVER.


Lady Laura: OMG, MY HUSBAND IS DRIVING ME NUTS. I am going to rebel as much as possible. I'm going to stop going to church and I am going to start reading novels on Sundays (THE SCANDAL) and talking politics and inviting visitors over at inconvenient times and basically doing everything that my husband considers to be a breach of my duty. I am a strong-minded, intelligent, free-spirited woman. Life is too short for this crap. Phineas, never marry for money like I did!

Phineas: Okay.

Lady Laura: Wow, you are handsome. I think I really love you. No, I don't. Yes, I do. No, I don't. Yes, I do.

Mr. Kennedy: Wife, are you in love with Phineas Finn?



Phineas: Hey, Violet, want to marry me?

Violet: No.

Chiltern: Hey, Violet, want to marry me even though I swore I would never ask you again?

Violet: Yes! I have always loved you!!!

Me: Wait, what?

Chiltern: Huzzah! We shall be wed at once!

Phineas: Ffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu–

Lady Laura: This is great! My best friend will become my sister-in-law, my brother is super happy, our family will be rich, and Phineas is still single.

Violet: Oops, I've had an argument with Chiltern and we're not engaged anymore. I will never marry anyone.

Phineas: Marry me?

Violet: No. But if I DID marry anyone, which I never will, it would be Chiltern, who I just broke up with. He is the only guy I have ever loved.

Phineas: Oh, crap! I just remembered my girlfriend, Stay-At-Home Mary. Hey, Mary! Wanna get married?

Mary: OMG, YES! I AM SO HAPPY. I have been waiting 650 pages for you to remember that I exist!

Phineas: Awesome. I finally locked a finacee down. Oh, wait, would it be totally horrible of me to ditch Mary and marry Madame Max Goesler? She's just so rich and hot . . .

Me: You have got to be freaking kidding me.

Phineas: Oh, no, wait, Mary is really sweet and womanly and Madame Max Goesler is too strong-minded. Nah, I love Mary. Which is good. Since she's already my fiancee.

Lady Laura: Hey, Phineas, I guess I don't love you anymore, for some reason. So I think you should totally marry Madam Max Goesler. You should DEFINITELY marry for money. Because that worked out so well for me.

Phineas: GAH, STOP TEMPTING ME. Okay, I think I might propose to Madame Max Goesler. No, I won't. Yes, I will. No, I won't. I will be true to Mary.

Violet: Hey, Lady Laura, I think Phineas is going to marry Madame Max Goesler. That's kind of a shame because if there was anyone other than your brother who I would have married, it would have been Phineas. Even though I refused him three times and said I never loved anyone except your brother. And I'm single now.

Lady Laura: Do you want to marry him? Because I can totally make that happen.

Violet: Nah. I don't love him anymore. It's cool.


Phineas: I'm going to be true to Mary, for sure. No exceptions. HEY, LET'S GO VISIT MADAME MAX GOESLER.

Madame Max: Hey, Phineas, want to share in all of my money by marrying me even though I refused being a freaking duchess to a guy who would probably conveniently die within a year, because I swore I'd never ever marry again?

Phineas: I can't, sorry, even though this is a golden opportunity that I will regret for the rest of my life.

Madame Max: Then you will never see me again. BYE.

Phineas: Damn, I know I did the right thing, but I totally should have accepted her. I am really miserable now, and Mary isn't looking like that great an option anymore.


Violet: Hey, Laura, I'm really sorry things didn't work out between me and your brother, but we're both too headstrong to be married to each other.

Laura: Well, in instances like that, the woman should bow down to her husband and make way for his will.

Me: How can you even say that, you filthy hypocrite? I can't even– How dare you– You have some nerve to– GAAAAAAAAH *HEADDESK*

Violet: Nahhhhhhh, we just wouldn't have worked out.

Chiltern: Hey, Violet . . . want to make this work out?

Violet: Yeah, okay.

[Phineas goes back to Ireland to be with Mary. Everyone plans to get married, except Lady Laura, who is probably planning to get divorced]


So I guess the moral of the story is that if you don't respect a woman's boundaries and decisions before you get married, she will eventually crack and marry you. You just have to harass her enough. If you don't respect a woman's boundaries and decisions after you get married, she'll leave your sorry ass.

The second moral of the story is that in Anthony Trollope's universe marriage should just be freaking BANNED.

Also, I didn't even begin to cover all of the ridiculous political stuff because I was blinded by the insane levels of wishy-washiness on the social side of things. I'd like to say I'll never read another one of his books, but I don't want to be like these characters, so I will just admit that it will probably happen. You can catch up with this train wreck in a few months.

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