The Eustace Diamonds

There’s no denying that young Lizzie Greystock did rather well for herself, though as a girl she didn’t have a penny to her name. First, she married Sir Florian Eustace, and he died within a year, leaving her a wealthy widow and mother — left her four thousand pounds a year and the use of Portray Castle for her life! But she wasn’t content with that. She was in possession of an immensely valuable diamond necklace, belonging to the Eustace family, and when Mr. Camperdown, the family lawyer, suggested to her that she should give it back when Sir Florian died — well, Lizzie flatly refused. She claimed the necklace was hers by right, and that she would never give it to anyone — that she would sell it sooner. The increasing legal pressure and the scandal did nothing to dissuade her. And then, when the necklace was stolen from her hotel room…

The Eustace Diamonds is a tremendously entertaining book by Anthony Trollope. Lizzie Eustace, whose greed, lies, selfishness, falseness, and other exploits are at the center of the story, is a wonderful character, and the several subplots are never less than fascinating. Will Frank Greystock come to his senses and marry the delightful, but penniless, Lucy Morris, or will he obey the very real needs of his pocketbook and marry the dreadful, but rich and seductive, Lizzie? Will the forthright Lucinda Roanoke allow herself to be bullied into marrying the unpleasant Sir Griffin? And what will happen to all the hired wedding-presents, if not?

Early in the book, Trollope lets us know clearly that Lizzie, though she is at the center of the action, is not meant to be at the center of our sympathy:

Although the first two chapters of this new history have been devoted to the fortunes and personal attributes of Lady Eustace, the historian begs his readers not to believe that that opulent and aristocratic Becky Sharp is to assume the dignity of heroine in the forthcoming pages. That there shall be any heroine the historian will not take upon himself to assert; but if there be a heroine, that heroine shall not be Lady Eustace. Poor Lizzie Greystock!—as men double her own age, and who had known her as a forward, capricious, spoilt child in her father’s lifetime, would still call her. She did so many things, made so many efforts, caused so much suffering to others, and suffered so much herself throughout the scenes with which we are about to deal, that the story can hardly be told without giving her that prominence of place which has been assigned to her in the last two chapters.

Nor does the chronicler dare to put forward Lucy Morris as a heroine. The real heroine, if it be found possible to arrange her drapery for her becomingly, and to put that part which she enacted into properly heroic words, shall stalk in among us at some considerably later period of the narrative, when the writer shall have accustomed himself to the flow of words, and have worked himself up to a state of mind fit for the reception of noble acting and noble speaking.

So our two main female characters are not to be our heroines. (Much, much later, Trollope offhandedly tells us that a child in someone’s house used to refer to Lucinda Roanoke as “the heroine,” but she hardly fits the bill.) He is playing with our sympathy here. Over and over, just when Lizzie has done something intolerable — told a terrible lie, or perjured herself, or done a bit of nasty play-acting, or tried to bribe an honest person — he says, “Poor Lizzie!” just as he does in the passage above. Trollope creates an atmosphere in which it’s impossible to hate the most hate-worthy person in the novel. She’s weak, yes; she’s false, yes; she is abandoned to her own interest — but in the end, poor Lizzie!

The same ideas are at play with the lawyers and lords in the case. Trollope does a great deal with the idea of what is false — paste — and what is real, like the diamonds themselves. If a lord like Lord Fawn is weak and malleable, more interested in what the world says of him than in what is truly right, than is he more to be esteemed than the lawyer Dove, whose keen insight into the morality of the law gives him the respect of every man?

When I read He Knew He Was Right, I found it a thoroughgoing examination of the married state, from almost every angle. Here, Trollope examines what is real and what is false, and how scandal and even madness may be created either by the real or by the false. As is usual with him, most of his characters get more or less what they deserve, but the question of true and false is left hanging — and his final words promise more to come about our poor Lizzie. This was a wonderful read, and remarkably fast-paced — another reliably good Trollope down, and about forty to go.

Note: I didn’t find out until about three-quarters of the way through the book that this is a Palliser novel. I’m actually also reading the Barchester novels, and didn’t start this on purpose, but it works great as a stand-alone book.

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30 Responses to The Eustace Diamonds

  1. Tony says:

    Funnily enough, this is one of my least-favourite Trollope books (as I explained in my post). It’s not a patch on the rest of the Palliser novels – which bodes well for your future reads ;)

    http://tonysreadinglist.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/diamonds-are-girls-worst-enemy.html

    • Jenny says:

      That was a great review, Tony! Thanks for the link. Although I really enjoyed the book much more than you did — I found it a complete hoot, I think Trollope is really funny — we noticed a lot of the same elements, about Lizzie’s psychology and the thoughts about marriage. And I do look forward to the rest of the Pallisers!

  2. Lisa says:

    I tend to forget this is one of the “Palliser” novels, since it is the least political of them. It’s such a great story, with the richness of Trollope’s characters – to my mind, his greatest gift as a writer. Are you reading the Barchester novels in order?

    • Jenny says:

      I am reading them in order. I’m up to Doctor Thorne. But I’ve taken time out to read He Knew He Was Right and this one, which my mom gave me (I don’t think she knew it was a Palliser novel either.) You’re so right about his characters, and I love the way he involves himself as an author, too.

      • Lisa says:

        He Knew He Was Right is one of my favorites of the non-series books, but I rarely see a mention of it, though it has been filmed for TV.

      • Jenny says:

        Yes, why is that? I adored He Knew He Was Right! Completely gripping, and I loved the way it looked at marriage from every possible angle.

    • Tony says:

      ‘He Knew He Was Right’ is excellent, a wonderful book. Sadly, with six Barchester novels, six Palliser novels and ‘The Way We Live Now’ around, it’s a natural number fourteen – which is very unfair ;)

      • Jenny says:

        It comes *after* Orley Farm? Really?

      • Tony says:

        No, ‘Orley Farm’ is not among those fourteen (it’s another stand-alone novel, which will make the top twenty!).

        For the record, I’ve read the two series (= 12 books), ‘The Way We Live Now’, ‘He Knew He Was Right’, ‘The Three Clerks’ and ‘An Autobiography’ – which is a Trollope novel in its own right, with big Tony T. as the hero ;)

        From a recent compettition win, I have ‘Orley Farm’, ‘Cousin Henry’, ‘Lady Anna’ and ‘The American Senator’ sitting on my shelves. Throw in ‘Rachel Ray’, and you’ve pretty much got your most popular Trollopes there.

        Of course, there’s always more…

      • Jenny says:

        Lucky you, to win an armful of Trollope! Sight unseen, I’m still sticking to the idea that HKHWR is going to outstrip a couple of the middle Barchester novels, though. I’ll tell you when I’m through.

  3. rebeccareid says:

    I am reading the Palliser novels and I enjoyed this one somewhat but Trollope is not my favorite writer. While I liked this book, I wasn’t overly excited to pick up another Trollope…Not sure what isn’t working for me. But of the three Palliser’s I’ve read, this was probably my favorite? I think it’s nice that it works as a stand-alone.

    (Although I’m looking forward to re-meeting Phineas Finn in the next in the series…so maybe I liked the politics more than I thought…)

    • Jenny says:

      You know, when I read The Warden, I thought it was pretty slow and I took quite some time to pick up another Trollope. But after I read Barchester Towers, I was hooked! And Rebecca, I am so impressed that you are reading and commenting less than a month after Strawberry’s birth. When I had a newborn and a toddler, I was totally overwhelmed. Major props to you, and HUGE congratulations on your lovely family. :)

      • rebeccareid says:

        she’s six weeks old by now, and this is my first week venturing out back in to the interwebs. She slept a lot yesterday, who knows if it will last :)

    • Tony says:

      ‘Phineas Redux’ is excellent, and Trollope actually though of it as the second half of ‘Phineas Finn’, one book rather than two :)

  4. I detect evidence, in the passage you include, that Trollope is – what is the technical literary term? – lying, just openly mocking the reader who is earnestly nodding along. “[W]orked himself up to a state of mind fit for the reception of noble acting and noble speaking” – no wonder Trollope and I get along so well. I write nonsense like that.

    Tony – I don’t understand your explanation. The novel is inferior because the men are venal?

    • Jenny says:

      I know, that’s why I love Trollope so much. He’s a complete hoot. There he is, all the time, assuring us that something is coming along, and then it doesn’t, or doesn’t in the way we expect; or he explains all about why we should feel sorry for poor Lizzie, who really has had much more lying and treachery than her nerves can stand; or whatever. I think of it more as joshing me than lying, but if you say that’s a technical term, I’ll take your word for it.

    • Oh, no, you have the PhD. On technical matters, I defer to authority. If you think joshing, joshing it is.

      It is all done in the jolliest spirit. I find it easy to picture T. laughing into his beard as he dashes down the lines before breakfast.

      • Jenny says:

        And such a beard for laughing in!

        Yes, joshing: when he says, “This is revealed because the author scorns to have any piece of information the reader does not,” he knows exactly what he’s doing and what he isn’t. Whoop!

    • Tony says:

      No, what I was trying to get at is that Lizzy was only able to get away with this because the men were, well, dumb. Trollope attempts to explain how she was able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes (on many occasions), but I felt that he was desperately trying to make me feel something I didn’t feel. Her success wasn’t due to some innate cunning; rather, she was able to take advantage of some weak and belief-stretching male characters…

  5. The Eustace Diamonds is one of my favourite novels, and I enjoyed reading your review, especially your comments about what is false, and what is true. I love Lizzie and the way she tries to use her brains and looks to get what she can out of life, but she has no self-knowledge, and is no judge of character – she has no idea about people’s true worth, so while she deceives others she herself is deceived, and is easily taken in by racketty, showy people and things.

  6. Christy says:

    I finished The Warden a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it. It was my first Trollope. I’m glad Trollope has written so many books. I feel like there are so many left to read, which is a good thing.

    By the way, in the quote above, was Becky Sharp’s name supposed to be there? Is it like a cross-over episode between Thackeray and Trollope?

    • Jenny says:

      Ha! I’d love to see that cross-over episode. No, Trollope is making reference to Becky Sharp because he knows his readers will have read Vanity Fair and will make the connection between two self-interested villainesses, that’s all. And yes, it’s quite comforting to see that there’s so much Trollope left to read. Some of it must be mediocre, mustn’t it? But so far, so good.

      • Becky Sharp is another adventuress, like Lizzie, who is on the make, trying to claw her way up to a better life, but unlike Lizzie she knows the difference between right and wrong, true and false, but still makes decisions that she things will benefit her the most. I think these rather amoral, self-obsessed ‘villainesses’ are much more interesting than some conventional heroines – what about Scarlett O’Hara, Lady Audley, Eustacia Vye…?

      • Jenny says:

        Oh, I completely agree. I think virtuous women make good reading a lot of the time, but frankly some of my very favorites are the ones you name. Add Undine Spragg from Edith Wharton’s Custom of the Country!

  7. Ah, dumb, the failing of so many movies, where the plot only works if the characters are stupid. Is that the sense other people have, that the men are stupid?

    The problem with taking Trollope’s “attempts to explain” as evidence is that Trollope is a great liar. I mean josher.

    He is, in this regard, Thackeray’s greatest disciple, as the invocation of Becky Sharp reminds us.

    • Jenny says:

      No, not at all. Lord Fawn is weak, and Sir George is very slightly slow to pick up that Lizzie could be as self-interested as he himself is, and of course her cousin Frank never quite gets it at all — but not because he’s stupid. They are none of them stupid. They all see Lizzie for who she is. The issue is only to what degree they wish to admit it to themselves, thereby wounding their own pride, self-interest, or reputation.

      Becky Sharp is much more intelligent than Lizzie, though, come to that.

    • Tony says:

      And, of course, he admired Thackeray so much he wrote his biography…

      • Lisa says:

        And he said in his own autobiography that he considered Thackery’s Henry Esmond “the best novel in the English language,” displacing Pride & Prejudice, and ranked him first among the novelists of his own day. I’d definitely include the autobiography in a list of essential Trollope!

        It’s lovely to find so many fellow Trollopians (particularly in this year of All Things Dickens). None of my RL reading friends has or will read him.

      • Jenny says:

        My mother, who is a 19th-century literature buff, had only read The Warden, and warned me off Trollope, saying he was slow. (!) Later, I gave her HKHWR, and now she’s read more Trollope than I have. I think it’s easy to get hooked on him.

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