The title is the first sign of trouble. Phineas Redux (1873-4) is the first true sequel in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series, and perhaps his first true sequel ever, certain portions of the later Barchester books aside. Most of the plotlines successfully resolved in Phineas Finn (1867-8) are now dissolved, stirred back into the pot to be re-resolved, along with another plot from the intervening The Eustace Diamonds (1871-3) the resolution of which was impossible to believe. I knew Lizzie Eustace would be back. Like Glencora Palliser, she is too much fun. As a character, Phineas Finn is less fun; as a novel, Phineas Redux is less fun.
For 150 pages, maybe 200, Phineas Redux was the most slack, the most minor, Trollope novel I have read, although it is only my eleventh – but eleven is a lot, right, with most novelists I could make confident generalization, while with Trollope and the other forty novels out there I can only guess. Some of them must be slack to the point of immobility.
By slack, I mean that a novel-length portion of the 880 page novel is spent rearranging and reinflating the characters, who in this analogy are not marionettes, as I usually describe fictional characters, but balloons, apparently. The fox hunting scene, obligatory in late Trollope, is introduced almost immediately, but even it seems perfunctory. Around page 100 there is an actual scene, what a relief, in which the central balloon takes on flesh at a miser’s dinner:
There was some very hot sherry, but not much of it. And there was a bottle of claret, as to which Phineas, who was not usually particular in the matter of wine, persisted in declining to have anything to do with it after the first attempt… He played with his fish without thinking much about it. He worked manfully at the steak. He gave another crumple to the tart, and left it without a pang. But when the old man urged him, for the third time, to take that pernicious draught with his cheese, he angrily demanded a glass of beer. The old man toddled out of the room, and on his return he proffered to him a diminutive glass of white spirit, which he called usquebaugh. (Ch. 10)
Even slack Trollope is amusing, even without a “pernicious draught with his cheese,” and the fact is that four novels into this series I do have a stake in the characters and an interest in what Trollope will do with them. The reader impatient with Trollope will not make it to Ch. 22, p. 234, when a media satire subplot starts up that is something new and savage. But what is that reader doing with the fourth volume of a Trollope series? Is it the only book in the cabin? In which case, he likely will finish it, having little choice, plus halfway through the novel turns into a murder mystery, and it takes a reader of strong character not to finish a murder mystery.
I’ll undo some of the above tomorrow. The second half of Phineas Redux is a lot more interesting than the first half, that is all I am trying to say here.