Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) was one of the most successful, prolific, and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-known books collectively comprise the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, which revolves around the imaginary county of Barsetshire and includes the books The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, and others. Trollope wrote nearly 50 novels in all, in addition to short stories, essays, and plays.
The Prime Minister (Classic Reprint)by Anthony Trollope
At the time with which we are now concerned Ferdinand Lopez was thirty-three years old, and as he had begun life early he had been long before the world. It was known of him that he had been at a good English private school, and it was reported, on the solitary evidence of one who had there been his schoolfellow, that a rumour was
Excerpt from The Prime Minister
At the time with which we are now concerned Ferdinand Lopez was thirty-three years old, and as he had begun life early he had been long before the world. It was known of him that he had been at a good English private school, and it was reported, on the solitary evidence of one who had there been his schoolfellow, that a rumour was current in the school that his school bills were paid by an old gentleman who was not related to him. Thence at the age of seventeen he had been sent to a German University, and at the age of twenty one had appeared in London, in a stockbroker's office, where he was soon known as an accomplished linguist, and as a very clever fellow, - precocious, not given to many pleasures, apt for work, but hardly trustworthy by employers, not as being dishonest, but as having a taste for being a master rather than a servant. Indeed his period of servitude was very short. It was not in his nature to be active on behalf of others. He was soon active for himself, and at one time it was supposed that he was making a fortune. Then it was known that he had left his regular business, and it was supposed that he had lost all that he had ever made or had ever possessed. But nobody, not even his own bankers or his own lawyer, - not even the old woman who looked after his linen, - ever really knew the state of his affairs.
He was certainly a handsome man, - his beauty being of a sort which men are apt to deny and women to admit lavishly. He was nearly six feet tall, very dark, and very thin, with regular, well cut features indicating little to the physiognomist unless it be the great gift of self-possession. His hair was cut short, and he wore no beard beyond an absolutely black moustache. His teeth were perfect in form and whiteness, - a characteristic which, though it may be a valued item in a general catalogue of personal attraction, does not generally recommend a man to the unconscious judgment of his acquaintance. But about the mouth and chin of this man there was a something of softness, perhaps in the play of the lips, perhaps in the dimple, which in some degree lessened the feeling of hardness which was produced by the square brow and bold, unﬂinching, combative eyes. They who knew him and liked him were reconciled by the lower face. The greater number who knew him and did not like him felt and resented, - even though in nine cases out of ten they might express no resentment even to them selves,-the pugnacity of his steady glance.
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Trollope is a master at getting the reader to care about his characters from the very first page of the novel, and he does that in The Prime Minister by introducing us to Emily Wharton, who has fallen in love with Ferdinand Lopez. Emily's father is a widower and has not a clue about how to parent his daughter. He has left much of her upbringing to his wife's sister, Mrs. Roby, who is half in love with Lopez herself. In fact, this plot line in the book reminds me very much of Washington Square by Henry James (first published in 1880, some four years after The Prime Minister). Mr. Wharton's stated objections to Lopez as a son-in-law are that he is not an Englishman (his father was Portuguese); and no one knows anything about his background. Mr. Wharton intuitively distrusts Lopez and is greatly distressed by Emily's obvious feelings for Lopez. Mr. Wharton even considers closing his law practice in London in order to take Emily abroad in an effort to break the hold Lopez seems to have on Emily. Unlike Dr. Sloper in Washington Square, Mr. Wharton esteems his daughter and considers letting her marry Lopez. The reader, privy to some insight into Lopez's motives, hopes Mr. Wharton holds out and prevents the marriage.
I'd never read Trollope.
After I read this novel, I promptly purchased the series of which it is a part. This series, referred to collectively as the Pillaser novels, comprises six fictional works about Victorian politics.
It's possible that the characters in The Prime Minister were more believable to Victorian audiences than they are to us. And the class snobbery of some of the characters occasionally grates on the democratic sensibility of the modern reader.
Still, as the introduction to one of the novels indicates, the characters, situations, and debates that animate these narratives spark that pleasant sensation Henry James called the 'surprise of recognition.'
An example to underscore the point. Among the characters in this populous fiction is Quintus Slide (what a name), editor of The People's Banner, a conservative daily. Slide is a vicious muckraker who, with each new scandalous broadside against the prime minister, congratulates himself on his public-spiritedness and his disinterested commitment to truth, a truth that is usually without context.
Also memorable, even months after reading it, is Plantagenet's (i.e., the prime minister of the title) reflections on how it is that we come to be liberal or conservative.
Read the book. You'll never be bored.