Classics Review: The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

the eustace diamonds“We will tell the story of Lizzie Greystock from the beginning, but we will not dwell over it at great length, as we might do if we loved her,” says the droll omniscient narrator. Then the novel goes on to entertain the reader at great length with the tale of Lizzie Greystock and her adventures. By the time we reach the end of the first chapter, the penniless orphan Lizzie Greystock has become Lady Eustace, wealthy widow of Sir Florian Eustace, whom she married with greatest speed, knowing that he was suffering from consumption and would not be likely to live long. She has also engaged in shady dealings with a loan shark jeweler named Mr. Benjamin and has had some ugly quarrels with her aunt, the Countess, Lady Linlingow.

Sir Florian quickly becomes disillusioned with his beautiful young wife as he has to deal with paying off some large unsavory debts she failed to mention, but he leaves her with a generous living and also an heir to the Eustace property, a son born a few months after he dies. It is made perfectly clear that Lizzie is a lying scheming adventuress. She is a liar who is out for herself but, at the back of my mind I wondered what her alternatives were, if she wanted to avoid a life of impoverished dependency. As if to answer this question, we are soon introduced to Lucie Morris, a sweet good-natured governess, who is the love of Frank Greystock, Lizzie’s barrister cousin. Later on, Lizzie decides that Cousin Frank might make good husband material for herself which generates quite a bit of drama. Frank Greystock is kind of borderline as far as his moral character. He seems to represents everyman, one who tries to be good but is constantly pulled to the dark side, and through most of the novel he vacillates about whether to choose love (Lucie) or money (Lizzie).

Besides being a fascinating psychological character study The Eustace Diamonds is also a crime novel, complete with a group of Scotland Yard detectives who have their own axes to grind. The issue arises from Lizzie’s money grab through her marriage to Sir Florian. After the dust settles it seems that she is in possession of a diamond necklace that the Eustace family lawyer, Mr. Camperdown insists is a family heirloom that rightfully belongs to the estate and not to the widow.

Illustration of Mr. Camperdown trying to get Lizzie to hand over the diamonds. From an edition of The Eustace Diamonds published in 1900. I have been able to find very few pictures for this novel. May have to do some myself!

Illustration of Mr. Camperdown trying to get Lizzie to hand over the diamonds. From an edition of The Eustace Diamonds published in 1900. I have been able to find very few pictures for this novel. May have to do some myself!

The necklace is worth 10,000 pounds. To get an idea of how much money this was, Lizzie’s inheritance from her husband amounts to 4,000 a year which is considered fabulous wealth. Her uncle, Dean of Bobsborough and father of Cousin Frank Greystock, is said to pull an income of 1500 per year as a clergyman, and on that he supports a family of five. Lizzie insists that her husband gave the necklace to her as a gift and refuses to give it up. Conflict ensues. Eventually the necklace is stolen. Apparently. But detectives Mr. Bunfit and Mr. Gager smell something fishy about the whole affair. The newspapers report daily on the situation, everybody who is anybody in London is talking about it, and rumors fly fast and free.

Adding comedy and intrigue to the plot is the motley gang of “friends” Lizzie has gathered around her, first entertaining them at great expense at her castle in Scotland and then sharing a house with the pair of ladies when they return to London. The ladies are Mrs. Carbuncle, a beautiful and charming but impoverished social climber, and her ill-tempered young niece Lucinda Roanoke. A pair of gentlemen round out the party: Sir George De Bruce Carruthers, a nobleman with a shady past and no discernible source of income, and the bad-tempered Sir Griffin Truett, another financially unstable nobleman who is interested in the very incompatible Lucinda.

Lizzie likes to think she likes poetry and casts Sir George in the role of the romantic and poetic “corsair”. She flirts with the idea that, if Frank Greystock doesn’t work out, she might consider Sir George as husband number 2. By the way, she has already accepted a proposal of marriage from Lord Faun, but Lord Faun is so dull and stuffy and he says he won’t go through with the marriage until she surrenders the diamonds to the family estate. It seems Lord Faun does not like embarrassing situations involving trouble with the law.

The writing is fast moving and sucks you in like a strong river current, laughing all the time. Besides being a fascinating psychological character study The Eustace Diamonds is also a crime novel, complete with a group of Scotland Yard detectives who have their own axes to grind. The issue arises from Lizzie’s money grab through her marriage to Sir Florian. After the dust settles it seems that she is in possession of a diamond necklace that the Eustace family lawyer, Mr. Camperdown insists is a family heirloom that rightfully belongs to the estate and not to the widow.

The necklace is worth £10,000. To get an idea of how much money this was, Lizzie’s inheritance from her husband amounts to £4000 a year which is considered fabulous wealth. Her uncle, Dean of Bobsborough and father of Cousin Frank Greystock, is said to pull an income of £1500 per year as a clergyman, and on that he supports a family of five. Lizzie insists that her husband gave the necklace to her as a gift and refuses to give it up. Conflict ensues. Eventually the necklace is stolen. Apparently. But detectives Mr. Bunfit and Mr. Gager smell something fishy about the whole affair. The newspapers report daily on the situation, everybody who is anybody in London is talking about it, and rumors fly fast and free.

Adding comedy and intrigue to the plot is the motley gang of “friends” Lizzie has gathered around her, first entertaining them at great expense at her castle in Scotland and then sharing a house with the pair of ladies when they return to London. The ladies are Mrs. Carbuncle, a beautiful and charming but impoverished social climber, and her ill-tempered young niece Lucinda Roanoke. A pair of gentlemen round out the party: Sir George De Bruce Carruthers, a nobleman with a shady past and no discernible source of income, and the bad-tempered Sir Griffin Truett, another financially unstable nobleman who is interested in the very incompatible Lucinda.

Lizzie likes to think she likes poetry and thinks Sir George fits the role of a romantic and poetic “corsair” so she flirts with the idea that, if Frank Greystock doesn’t work out, she might consider him as husband number 2. By the way, she has already accepted a proposal of marriage from Lord Faun, but Lord Faun is so dull and stuffy and he says he won’t go through with the marriage until she surrenders the diamonds to the family estate. It seems Lord Faun does not like embarrassing situations involving trouble with the law.

Apparently in was quite expensive in 19th century England to live the high life: your clothing, carriage, and your home address were all part of your ticket to society, and being included in society was necessary to living the high life. In the case of men, it was perceived as necessary to do what was necessary to get ahead in society and in their career, and in the case of women, making the right impression might mean the difference between living a life surrounded by interesting people and the basic comforts of life and living a life as a poor dependent, such as Lizzie’s unfortunate companion Miss McNulty.

I started reading Anthony Trollope’s six-book Palliser series a full year ago. I liked Can You Forgive Her? a lot so after finishing the initial book I jumped right into Phineas Finn which was okay but had too many fox hunts and Parliamentary proceedings to suit me at the time. Maybe I just got kind of got burned out on Trollope. So I took a long break from the series before embarking on The Eustace Diamonds. I needn’t have! The fox hunts in this novel didn’t bother me at all. They are perhaps briefer and definitely more interesting. I am eager to read the next one– Phineas Redux and after that The Prime Minister and The Duke’s Children. I have high hopes.

The more you read Trollope the more you appreciate the sheer quality and entertainment value of his writing, wit, and psychological depth. Of course, with reading, I know that certain books will interest me at one point in my life and not another and I’ve noticed another strange thing – one book will affect how I perceive the next one. For example, right after finishing The Eustace Diamonds, I picked up The Hours, the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner by Michael Cunningham.

I have recently been on a Virginia Woolf kick and knew that this book had something to do with Woolf. And I probably would have enjoyed The Hours at a different time in life, in a different mood. But coming right out of The Eustace Diamonds it struck me as self-conscious sludge and I only finished reading it through sheer determination. The characters in The Hours take themselves so seriously. The book has no sense of irony, no omniscient narrator to shake his head indulgently at their foolish pretentions. The characters seem like some of us feel about real life, left to our devices to sort out the fog and sludge of our illusions, feeling our way in the darkness with only enough light to see through the day.

When I went back and re-read the first several chapters of The Eustace Diamonds the quality of Trollope’s writing felt like a flood of relief, like coming home to something genuine and true. How good to get back to a solid book world in which the author is an adult in charge. Everything is under control, and if the characters don’t know it, the reader does.
I am certainly no Trollope expert. Besides the first three Palliser books I have only read The Way We Live Now. Way back in my distant shadowy past I read Barchester Towers, but I hardly remember it. (Something else to look forward to – The Barchester series!) But I’m pretty sure I am seeing a pattern here: Trollope is very interested in how money affects the lives of his characters: their social decisions, their prospects in life, and especially their moral character. When I read How We Live Now a couple years ago, I thought, well this is all about two things: love and money.

Now, after reading a few more of Trollope’s novels, I see that the emphasis is heavier on the money side of the equation. Oh love gets its due and the deserving characters end up choosing it in the end, but the bulk of the action has way more to do with money. From what I have Wikipedia puts it: “Anthony Trollope suffered much misery in his boyhood owing to the disparity between the privileged background of his parents and their comparatively small means.” He was certainly superb at capturing psychological complexity in his characters. The great writer Henry James, brother of early psychologist William James, has a couple of things to say about Trollope on this subject:

“If he was to any degree a man of genius, and I hold that he was, it was in virtue of his happy and instinctive perception of human variety; his knowledge of the stuff we are made of.” Henry James

And this:

“He remains one of the most trustworthy, although not the most eloquent, of the writers who have helped the heart of man to know itself.”

Advertisements

About CJ

Blogger, illustrator, writer

Posted on September 16, 2015, in Classics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Jules Verne Times Two

The more we travel the bigger the world gets

Grief: One Woman's Perspective

Perceptions on life after the death of a child

I say this with love

Observations and book reviews concerning what's happening in the world

Something Like a Storybook

from Morgan Bradham

jhohadli

Welcome to the Creative Space of Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse. Here you can read about my books, my literary journey, my freelance services, and whatever else is on my mind. Join the conversation. If you need to contact me directly (or sign up for my newsletter), email jhohadli (at) gmail.com Site content is the © of Joanne C. Hillhouse. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without my clear permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you're looking for my other blog, go to http://wadadlipen.wordpress.com

alltheeabove

A home for legit sites and recommendations

Live...Love...Share!!!

Let's Live, Love and Share our opinions about life, writing, social media and other interests!!

Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog

Writing Advice, grammar, poetry, and prose - The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing

A Writer's Path

Sharing writing tips, information, and advice.

Kwarus' Blog

... powered by thoughts ...

Athena's Paycheck

A blog for humanities and art people who need to make a living

Glitchy Artist

Screenshots of the Universe

%d bloggers like this: