The disadvantage of reading a Trollope novel on vacation is that I take few notes and thus have forgotten where the juiciest lines are. True of any novel, I suppose, but the plushness and repetitiveness of the Trollope works against me. That line I want could be anywhere.
No, wait, I found this one:
He had recommended to her a certain course of reading, – which was pleasant enough; ladies like to receive such recommendations; but Mr. Kennedy, having drawn out the course, seemed to expect that his wife should read the books he had named, and, worse still, that she should read them in the time he had allocated for the work. (Ch. 23)
I thought bookish people would enjoy it. The “ladies like” bit is hilarious; that he “expect[s] his wife should read the books” is sublime. The next line: “This, I think, was tyranny.” Mr. Kennedy and his wife are newlyweds.
The main thrust of Phineas Finn is about the title character’s ambitions for his political career, but two of the side plots are about the ambitions of women, who are no less ambitious but live under much worse constraints than Finn. The wife in the passage above, the former Lady Laura Standish, should be in parliament herself, perhaps even in place of Phineas Finn, but since that is impossible she has to direct her energy elsewhere, resulting in the terrible mistake of her marriage. “[A] certain course of reading,” how awful.
That genial, sympathizing omniscient narrator is fairly restrained in Phineas Finn, a younger, high-spirited Trollope having purged most of his meta-fictional impulses way back in Barchester Towers, although there is one glorious eruption in Finn, when Trollope feels he needs to move into forbidden territory and write up a meeting of Cabinet Ministers:
And now will the Muses assist me while I sing an altogether new song? On the Tuesday the Cabinet met at the First Lord's official residence in Downing Street, and I will attempt to describe what, according to the bewildered brain of a poor fictionist, was said or might have been said, what was done or might have been done, on so august an occasion. (Ch. 29)
Trollope says that he, “[t]he poor fictionist,” the “strictly honest fictionist,” is used to getting things wrong (“He catches salmon in October; or shoots his partridges in March”) and suffering the rough correction of critics, but when dealing with, for example, legal matters he at least has lawyer friends from whom he can ask advice. He does not know anyone in the Cabinet, so he just has to make up the whole thing.
But then, again, there is this safety, that let the story be ever so mistold, – let the fiction be ever so far removed from the truth, no critic short of a Cabinet Minister himself can convict the narrator of error.
A fortuitous result of this meta-fictional fussing is that the chapter is the most finely described scene in the novel, the only one where Trollope describes the furniture, including the “certain papers which lay upon a side-table, – and which had been lying there for two years, and at which no one ever looked or would look.” Soon enough, the scene shifts to an all-talk format, but not until the imaginative hard, fun work has been done.