The Duke’s Children

The final novel in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series begins with the announcement that Lady Glencora, Duchess of Omnium, has died, leaving her husband Plantagenet Palliser to guide their three children into adulthood. The two sons, Silverbridge and Gerald, have shown some signs of irresponsibility, but Lord Silverbridge, the eldest, seems to be settling down. He’s even chosen for his wife Lady Mabel Grex, a woman Plantagenet strongly approves of, although Lady Mabel hasn’t entirely agreed to the match. And now there’s a desirable American heiress in their circle.

Lady Mary, on the other hand, has always been a dutiful daughter, but she has fallen in love with Frank Tregear, a good man but a poor one. Plantagenet can’t help but recall Glencora’s early love for the poor and irresponsible Burgo Fitzgerald, and he hopes that Mary can be steered away from her first love, just as Glencora was all those years ago.

Planty Pall loves his children and wants to do right by them, but his perception of what is right is influenced by tradition. Plus, he’s never been close to his children, or demonstrably affectionate. He left all of that to Glencora, and now he’s at sea.

Teresa: Believe it or not, this was the third time I read this book. I was assigned it in college and liked it enough to read it a second time a few years later. It’s enough of a “Pallisers: The Next Generation” story that you don’t really need to have read the earlier books to understand it. The essential plotline, involving Glencora’s past, is adequately explained. And as essential as Mrs. Finn is to this novel, it’s not important to know her history. It was fun, however, to revisit these characters with the additional background knowledge I didn’t have on my earlier readings.

Jenny: This is my first time through the Pallisers, and I’m getting the full force of the narrative arc. I agree that with the understanding we have of the characters, I had a much more heavily-freighted experience. Instead of automatically siding with the childrens’ romances (though I cared about them and agreed with them on principle), I wanted things to turn out right for the poor, suffering Duke.

What did you think of the inclusion of an American in this book? I felt like we were getting into Edith Wharton territory here!

Teresa: Having read The Shuttle so recently, that’s the book that sprang to mind for me. Isabel Boncassen shares some of Bettina Vanderpoel’s good sense, although she’s never faced with anything close to the same kinds of trials. But, as an outsider, she seemed able to size up the situation well. She was willing to marry for love and not cow-tow to tradition, but she could see how England’s long aristocratic tradition might lead to her misery in the long run. Pragmatism seems highly valued in this series, as long as it’s not a pragmatism devoid of emotion. And that, to me, is where poor Lady Mabel seems to go wrong. I worry that she’ll end up like Lady Laura, bitter and alone. What did you think of Lady Mabel?

Jenny: Poor Lady Mabel. She has everything except timing, doesn’t she? She tells her true love she can’t marry him because they both need money (maybe sensible?) but doesn’t expect to be taken at her word. Then, because she isn’t in love with her next suitor, she totally biffs the game she’s playing and puts him off, so he falls thoroughly in love with someone else. And she’s too smart even to be able to blame him. The thing I thought was interesting about her portrayal was that Trollope consistently referred to her as older, even though he made it clear that she wasn’t any older. She was just jaded, because her heart had been broken and she had a more cynical outlook on life. I love Trollope’s women.

I got so tired of all the hunting and politics in this book, but I truly enjoyed watching Silverbridge grow up and learn to appreciate his father, and watching the Duke bend as well. (Beauty and the Beast!) They were both so fundamentally decent, despite mistakes, didn’t you think?

Teresa: Oh, yes, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Duke, and I think it comes from having read this book first. He so clearly wants to do the right thing by his children, but he’s conflicted about what the right thing is. Silverbridge frustrated me a little because he came across as so changeable, not just in love but also in politics. And he dithers a lot about doing the right thing. But I could chalk a lot of that up to his youth. By the end of the book, he’s on his way, and I think a strong-minded and principled woman like Isabelle will be a good match for him.

I was happy to see Madame Max back, happily married and able to be a good friend to Lady Mary. Mary needed that guidance from someone with a strong but adaptable mind and a willingness to say what she thinks without offending. I wondered how Glencora would have handled the situation, had she been alive. The book suggests that she would have been able to quickly smooth the path for Mary and Frank. Do you think that’s correct?

Jenny: I thought a lot about that. Glencora is always depicted as a wonderful, delightful woman with no real judgment. I think that Silverbridge and Mary having to wait for their loves and win over their conservative father was excellent all around. If Glencora had been alive, the Duke could have allowed himself to be distant and disapproving. This way, he had to really accept his children’s choices — there was no intermediary to do the emotional work for him, just as there was no one to do the work of admitting he had done Madame Max wrong earlier in the book. Left on his own, he did pretty well for both love and honor.

This series was so much fun to read! Now that I’ve read all the Barsetshire chronicles, all the Pallisers, plus He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now — what Trollope should be next?

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7 Responses to The Duke’s Children

  1. Elle says:

    Orley Farm, perhaps? Or Rachel Ray? Both in rather handsome Oxford World’s Classics paperback editions, now.

  2. Yes, Orley Farm is excellent. Classic big 900-page Trollope.

  3. Lisa says:

    This is one I’ve been meaning to re-read, I’ve only read it once and I’ve forgotten much of the story.
    I recently read, and really enjoyed, Ayala’s Angel, so I’ll put in a plug for that one. Or if you want acid Trollope, Mr Scarborough’s Family.

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