on 7 February 2006
The second novel in the Palliser's series, Phineas Finn follows the story of an Irish Member of the British Houses of Parliament from humble beginnings as the son of a doctor through the aristocratic and political salons of the mid-19th century.
Finn is something of a ladies man but Trollope writes him beautifully as someone who seems to blunder accidentally into good fortune and an interest in several women without the faintest trace of self-knowledge. He is unassuming, charming, deliciously shallow and, we are told, handsome to look at. Men and women alike are taken in by him.
Trollope as always slowly builds the many strands of his story from the start. But as you read on through, the narrative gathers pace until it is bowling hypnotically along with its own momentum. After the first 200 pages it becomes unputdownable as events and personalities unfold sometimes as you thought they would, and other times ending in surprise.
My favourite charcter became Lord Chiltern. He grew on me every time he appeared. He's a plain-speaking, unsophisticated man who has gained a reputation for being violent and difficult but gradually I began to wonder how much was truth and how much hearsay. He is the anti-thesis of the charming but deceptive Phineas Finn. Chiltern is disliked while Finn is admired and favoured by the same people and so Trollope makes his point that what you see isn't always what you get.
on 6 August 2008
This, the second novel in Trollope's Palliser-novels, is as good as one has grown to expect from such an immaculate novelist as Trollope.
Phineas is a penniless Irishman (his father being a modest country doctor) who, against all expectations (including his own) is elected to the British Parliament. This not only introduces him to the political world of the day (which Trollope describes with great acumen and at times sarcasm) but also to London society, where Phineas soon becomes a favorite. But before long Phineas is faced with two dilemmas. In his political life he has to decide whether, having become a government employee, it is his duty to always vote as the government does or to follow his own judgement (perhaps at the cost of his job). In his private life he is torn between staying true to his Irish childhood-love and (since she is penniless too) forsaking his dreams of a grand political career, or to dump her for one of the London heiresses...
The whole story is masterly told by Trollope whose style, once you've been introduced to it, is ever so charming and really like no other. I've been charmed and seduced by every single novel of his I've read so far and this one is no exception. Thoroughly recommended!
on 3 March 2007
The best known of the six "Palliser" novels, "Phineas Finn" is an entertaining account of a young man's progress through the London society of the 1860s. If that sounds dull, think again: this is a book full of brilliantly observed relationships, sexual politics, Westminster politics and many wise epithets, eg 'It has been the great fault of our politicians that they have all wanted to do something.' Palliser writes clearly and brightly, with wonderful irony, carefully measured humour and none of the self-consciousness which weighs so heavily on some Dickens novels. I've so far read the first four of the Palliser novels, starting with the little-known but outstanding "Can You Forgive Her?" and found them all excellent. If you fancy something entertaining with a bit of literary substance, you can't do better.
Upside: revelatory. Downside: quite long.
It is surely right to rate Phineas Finn among Trollope's greatest achievements. The novel, part of the Palliser series - which can all be read independently and in disorder even though many of the same characters reappear in them - strikes just the right balance between social and psychological portrayal, between a story of ambition and political calculation and a more conventional love and marriage subplot. The book takes place before and around the second reform act. Phineas, the able son of a well-to-do Irish doctor, is elected, on a fluke, to parliament. As he takes up his seat in Westminster, however, he is torn between the aim of making his mark in that exalted assembly and his complete lack of independent means. Our hero, by dint of his charm, hard work, and good character, nevertheless manages to rise among the lords, ladies, and wealthy magnates that make his adopted London society. But reform soon threatens the loss of his seat. And while the solution might be to marry Violet, an unattached heiress, love, scruples, and male rivalries get in the way.
The introduction writes that Phineas Finn provides a good account of the passage of the second reform act. Not so, in my opinion. The act was passed by the Tories, whereas in the novel it is passed by the Whigs. The debate raged around the composition and level of the borough franchise, whereas Trollope was more interested in the ballot question and in the redistribution of seats that affects his hero. But Trollope never pretended to be giving a historical account. Where this is historical is in its restitution of parliament, its debates, clubs, and backdoor doings. The scene describing Phineas's first speech in the Commons is unforgettable. The historically aware reader will also enjoy guessing who is who behind the pseudonyms: Monk must be Bright, Gresham must be Gladstone, etc.. If you wish to know what it may have been like to be a young and aspiring MP in the nineteenth-century House of Commons, what went on from there to London's great houses, how elections worked, and what went on in and around the great country seats, Phineas Finn is the thing to read. Trollope has magnificently woven the various love interests around Phineas's own trajectory, moreover, and this side of the novel is written with equally great delicacy and conviction. I found myself compulsively blazing through this massive block of a book, and I recommend it as the best Trollope I have read so far.
Phineas Finn, being the second novel of Trollope's Palliser series, has much to live up to by comparison with earlier Trollope works such as the Barset novels, which contain some of the finest examples of classic English literature. By and large, it does not disappoint.
I wont summarise the plot as others have done so better than I ever could. It is an entertaining account of a young man's progress through London society of the 1860s, particularly the politics of the period. The 1860s was a period of great political change in Britain, with the second Reform Act changing the political landscape of the country. All of which means that this could so easily have been a dull book, bogged down with political theory and argument, but thanks to Trollope's great skill as a writer this never happens. Sure, there are one or two points where the political explanations are a little dull unless that sort of thing floats your boat, but these are very minor and on the whole Trollope manages to make the political process both entertaining and understandable. He also manages to steer clear of too obvious a political bias. Whilst it is possible to get an understanding of Trollope's own politics from the book, you never feel like he is forcing this down your throat, and he does give both sides of the argument.
As ever with Trollope, the plot is not overly complex, but it is an accutely observed portait of real life in those times. He paints this picture using a wonderful cast of characters - indeed a number of Trollope's best are to be found in Phineas Finn. The exquisite Lady Glencora and my Victorian pin up, Plantagenet Palliser, are to be found within its pages - although in a disappointingly small amount. Lord Chiltern is a wonderful depiction of a highly strung, idle aristocrat and yet is rather loveable for all his faults. Lady Laura and Violet Effingham are two further examples of Trollope's genius at depicting his female characters - intelligent, strong, passionate and yet imprisoned by the conventions of the time, a situation which Trollope again deals with admirably, despite his supposedly anti-feminist views.
I could go on about numerous other enjoyable and believable characters here, but I wont bore you. To be honest, the only character I didn't realy take a strong shine to was the eponymous hero himself, Phineas Finn. I didn't dislike him by any means. I just found him a bit insipid and with too many double-standards, though his principled resignation in the end made up somewhat for this. He seemed to have so much luck fall into his lap and yet not to appreciate it that it just annoyed me a tad. However, this was by no means enough to spoil an extremely enjoyable book. However, it was the the one element that made this book a four star instead of 5 for me.
on 2 January 2010
Despite being the eponymous hero of the novel, Phineas Finn serves as a curious device for Trollope to explore timeless themes of power, place, vocation and love. The real characters of this engrossing novel are the society women drawn to Finn, beginning with Lady Laura, then her friend Violet Effingham, and the rich (and foreign) widow Mrs Max Goesler. Compared to their nuances, contrivances, and designs, Finn's true love, the Irish Mary Flood Jones, is rendered simple and pure. The same can be said of Trollope's portrayal of Phineas Finn, albeit less obvious due to his being the central focus of the story. In his case, what truly resonates with today's reader is Phineas's opportunism: his effort to become a career politician for the sake of that alone. His convictions eventually catch up, but the significant thing is that Trollope develops this in such a way as to highlight the bind of middle-class politicians in the nineteenth century - their (greater) need for ministerial income adversely affecting their political independence. The fickleness of Finn's society ladies Trollope uses to explore deeper attitudes to class, creed, and country. Laura and Violet love Phineas, but his background makes them hesitate. A similar attitude is displayed by their caste to the widow Goesler, so that they come to believe a match between Finn and Goesler the most appropriate outcome. The reader (whom Trollope identifies as 'English') is encouraged to think the same of Finn and little Mary Flood Jones.
Phineas Phinn is one of Trollope's best characters - attractive, charming, ambitious and passionate, he starts the book as a young man falling into fortune, but matures throughout the novel.
A typical Victorian book, Phineas's relationships with three very different women are described in exquisite psychological detail.
Read this for a view of Victorian politics, for the relationships between men and women, for an analysis of the role of money in society - or simply as a rivetting, unputdownable story.
The sequel, Phineas Redux, is much darker and must be read straight after.
on 18 May 2013
My first time reading Trollope - had no idea how good he is, and I breezed through with great enjoyment.
Reviewers seem polarised by the protagonist. Finn is an ambiguous character, opportunistic and principled, so he keeps your attention as you wonder what his next choice will be.
The real joy comes from the love interests in London. The scheming of the three ladies is intriguing - each so different (even in age, just slightly), yet playing the same game in the knowledge that the consequences are fatal. And Laura is tragic because she brings despair upon herself.
The politics is interesting, and what struck me was the integration of classes, all having working connections with each other. I have no idea if that's a realistic portrayal, but from what I've read of Trollope's biog he seems to have worked his father's failure into Finn's choices.
It's a chunky book but light in the hands.
on 28 February 2013
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
Phineas Finn, the Irish Member, is an outsider in British political life of the mid-nineteenth century and Trollope conveys his hero's isolation well. Although he moves in the highest political circles, Finn does not seem fully part of that world. He is more at home in his lodgings with the Bunces than in the drawing rooms of Lady Glencora Palliser and the Duke of Omnium.
Many of the political machinations that Trollope describes I found uninteresting, though he is excellent at describing the first days of a newly elected MP, and the fear that Finn feels as he contemplates his first speech in the House is palpable. On a domestic level, the main concern is Finn's relationships with the three women in his life: Lady Laura Kennedy, Violet Chiltern and Madame Max Goesler.
Our hero is a principled man, giving up a salaried government post and a promising political career. Even so, Finn comes over as a rather dour, two-dimensional individual.
One of the more interesting plot strands concerns the Kennedys and their failed marriage, which a modern day reader might interpret as due to their sexual incompatibility, a supposition Trollope, of course, cannot make explicit. But, Lady Laura does suffer from an awful lot of headaches.
'Phineas Finn' does not have the scope or broad canvas of other of the Palliser novels, and is enjoyable in parts rather than taken as a whole.
on 27 November 2014
I loved this work as Trollope is so good at creating memorable and believable characters. Phineas Finn is an attractive hero but is flawed which makes him very human. The book takes place at the time of the Reform Bill and when Rotten Boroughs were the norm. It also gives a vivid picture of the gutter press at the time - it does not seem to have changed much. I enjoyed this book so much I went on to the next book "Phineas Redux" which is a follow on.