The Eustace Diamonds

Eustace DiamondsPoor Lizzie Eustace! Widowed after only a few months of marriage, she’s now left on her own to raise her infant son. And now the lawyers want to take away the diamonds her beloved husband gave her to be her very own. Or that’s what she would have everyone believe.

The third book of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series tells of Lizzie’s fight to keep the diamonds while seeking out a new husband and a new life.

Teresa: So, Lizzie Eustace. Quite a character. Trollope’s narrator notes from the start that she’s a Becky Sharp type. She’s always looking out for herself and herself alone, whether that means stealing diamonds or stealing suitors. On the one hand, I can respect a woman standing up for herself, especially in a time when women had so few choices. But, on the other, Lizzie’s lies seemed so pointless. She’s well off without the diamonds and doesn’t seem all that attached to them until she’s asked to give them up. And eventually, her lies and manipulations start to do real harm. What did you think of Lizzie?

Jenny: I loved her! How could you not love her? I mean, she’s the perfect love-to-hate character, like Becky Sharp, like Undine Spragg. She is shallow, vain, greedy, ungrateful, backstabbing, a liar even when lies aren’t called for, and a Romantic — her dreams of a Corsair who will come and save her from her ordinary life make more trouble for her than almost anything else. Trollope points out over and over again that she doesn’t even really like to read for reading’s sake (what a sin!). There’s a hilarious passage where she’s trying to read a collection of Shelley’s poetry (she doesn’t understand it very well), and she memorizes a bit of it to impress people — but it’s a bit from the beginning, so people will know she didn’t read the whole thing. Later, says Trollope, she’ll be manipulative enough to understand that you have to memorize a bit from the middle.Yet Trollope keeps calling her “poor Lizzie”!

One thing Trollope says is that neither Lizzie nor Lucy Morris is the heroine of the novel. Who do you think earns that title?

Teresa: Lizzie is the kind of character that I love to read about but am very, very glad not to know.

I am genuinely puzzled by Trollope’s assertion that neither Lizzie nor Lucy is the heroine. So puzzled that I have to wonder whether Trollope altered his plans for another character over the course of the serialization. There are lots of great women in this book, but only Lizzie and Lucy get sustained and focused attention. I wonder if he means to refer to Glencora Palliser, but she offers little more than commentary and misguided sympathy. Women like Lady Linlithgow and Lady Greystock are able to wield some influence over events, but they don’t have their own plots. Perhaps Lucinda Roanoke’s role was meant to be larger. She has potential, given her stubborn independence. I loved her decision to simply not leave the room on the day of her wedding. Do you have a theory?

Jenny: I think Trollope’s assertion is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, actually. Lizzie, naturally, can’t be our heroine because she is just so awful. And Lucy, naturally, can’t be our heroine because… because she’s not pretty enough? Because she’s a governess? Because she doesn’t have rich relations? But she  is strong, loyal, intelligent, witty, and wise — everything a woman should be. Trollope calls Lucinda Roanoke a “heroine” because she is so beautiful. But she loses her reason because she comes so close to marriage with a man she despises. It’s a fantastic plot! But I think Lucy is our true heroine after all.

And what about a hero? The men in this book are not much to brag about. I have to admit that I don’t think Frank Greystock is good enough for Lucy (though not bad enough for Lizzie.) Lord Fawn and Lord George de Bruce Carruthers are pieces of work, too, in opposite ways. Have we got a hero at all? Mr. Camperdown, the indignant lawyer, perhaps?

Teresa: Good call on Trollope being tongue in cheek. Maybe Trollope is making a comment on what it means to be a heroine, just as the whole novel seems to address what makes a good (or bad) wife.

As for a hero, I don’t think the book has one. All the men are either sleazy or too easily manipulated. Frank Greystock is the best of them all, but I agree that he’s not good enough for Lucy. I could, however, sympathize with his plight, and I think he’s someone with the potential to become a truly good man. He can never bring himself to give up on Lucy, regardless of how strongly he’s tempted. With time, perhaps goodness will come more easily to him.

Jenny: I like your thought that Trollope is thinking through what it means to be a heroine. I also think he’s commenting (again! as he does so often) on the marriage market. When we have those long fox-hunting scenes, I see them as extended metaphors for the “chase” of courtship. Who has the money to be seated well or have an extra horse? Who has the spirit to stay right up with the hounds? Who knows the terrain, or knows the Master, or has the connections to be in at the kill? And, in many women’s case, a kill is not far off the mark. It’s telling that Lizzie Eustace loves the hunt: it’s all about possession and property for her

I also agree with your assessment of Frank. It reminds me of Phineas Finn in the last book we read — he, too, narrowly escaped temptation and did what was right, and so did Lady Glencora in the first of them. Perhaps in the Palliser series, Trollope is exploring temptation and duty and their consequences? I look forward to reading more about Phineas’s choices in our next book, Phineas Redux!

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6 Responses to The Eustace Diamonds

  1. While I have made 2016 My Year of Melville (re-reading everything, but in chronological order) you’re doing something I’ve also wanted to do for years–re-read the Palliser novels now that, at sixty, I’m old enough to appreciate them (I was about 20 when I read them the first time, older when I read the Barsetshire series).

    Of course Trollope was being ironic; characters as charmingly rotten as Lizzie and Becky Sharp are just too, too RIPE to be heroines (although Becky takes a turn toward evil near the end of Vanity Fair, some think). But that’s why we love them.

    Keep these great reviews coming; you’re encouraging more readers to discover the riches of Victorian triple-decker novels, which are, by far, my favorite type of novel, period.

    • Jenny says:

      I think Teresa’s question about what it means to be a heroine is at play here — Lizzie (poor Lizzie!) takes up all the center space of the novel, and we can hardly bear to take time away from her, lest she do something scandalous and ill-judged out of our sight. This is a fun novel, and funny, because Lizzie is so awful! But the usual categories for a heroine aren’t useful — we have to think in other ways before we categorize. I so enjoyed this one!

  2. Elle says:

    Lucy and Frank’s relationship was so frustrating for me to read. That horrible, long, stagnant period between engagement and marriage, when all sorts of fuck-ups could happen because betrothed people never spent that much time together… awful. I loved Lizzie, of course (how could I not, having adored Becky Sharp from a young age?), and Lady Glencora has always been one of my favourites.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, and it wasn’t just the time of the betrothal, was it? Frank was like someone deliberately standing on the edge of a cliff and leaning far, far out. I wanted to smack him. Lizzie was terrible, but there wasn’t much to praise about Frank, either (not that Lucy would let me get away with that.) I hope Frank improves as time goes on!

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