I have mocked Trollope for his excessive number of proposal scenes – Trollope had mocked himself for the same thing – but The Eustace Diamonds only has maybe six proposals, far fewer than in the previous Palliser novel, Phineas Finn, where they became an aggravation.
In smaller quantities, I can be more impressed with Trollope’s inventiveness. Sir Florian Eustace is proposing to Lizzie Greystock. One proposal out of the way, and we are still in Chapter 1:
The speech he made was somewhat long, and as he made it he hardly looked into her face.
But it was necessary to him that he should be made to know by some signal from her how it was going with her feelings. As he spoke of his danger, there came a gurgling little trill of wailing from her throat, a soft, almost musical sound of woe, which seemed to add an unaccustomed eloquence to his words. When he spoke of his own hope the sound was somewhat changed, but it was still continued.
I do not think of Trollope as much of a descriptive writer, but “a gurgling little trill of wailing” is pretty good. And the most effective touch is that her strange sound adds color to his speech, or so he thinks, since I take that as Sir Florian’s thoughts, or illusions. In other words, the beautiful, penniless, deceitful adventuress has hooked the rich, “vicious and… dying” baronet but good. By the end of the chapter he is dead and Lizzie is a rich widow in possession of the diamond necklace that gives the book its title and the plot its momentum. Again, I mean by the end of Chapter 1 – this novel really cooks at first.
The six Barchester books had no hunting scenes. I believe that Trollope, in real life, had not yet become a fox-hunting addict when he began that series, and as we know from Framley Parsonage, clergymen should not hunt. All four non-Barchester novels I have read feature long, detailed hunting scenes. When he is interested enough, Trollope cannot stop himself from describing a scene in detail – every horse, every obstacle, every movement of the game. Some readers must find these chapters as dull as a play-by-play of a fictional baseball game. Trollope does make use of these chapters, so they are not entirely there for his own Fantasy Fox-hunting entertainment. The hunt in Chapter 38, for example, results in, what else, a proposal.
I will save that for tomorrow, though, and turn to the poor fox:
They were off again now, and the stupid fox absolutely went back across the river. But, whether on one side or on the other, his struggle for life was now in vain. Two years of happy, free existence amidst the wilds of Craigattan had been allowed him. Twice previously had he been “found,” and the kindly storm or not less beneficent brightness of the sun had enabled him to baffle his pursuers. Now there had come one glorious day, and the common lot of mortals must be his. (Ch. 38)
Trollope is so fluid – “They” are the hunters, “stupid” and “absolutely” are their words, collectively. It is practically dialogue, from when one of the huntsman recounts the hunt at the pub. Omniscient Trollope takes the reins and begins sympathizing with the fox – he sympathizes with everyone – and the rhetoric heightens, including some pleasing indulgence in the pathetic fallacy, entirely appropriate, since what reader will not feel the pathos of the death of the fox?