The Duke’s Children (1880) ends Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series, with the story shifting from Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium and in the previous novel an unhappy Prime Minister of England, to his children, particularly his eldest son. Trollope’s series of novels do not work the way such creatures work today – Palliser is only a minor character in several of the novels in the series that bears his name – but he legitimately aged, developed, regressed – changed, is what I am trying to say since his introduction in a synergistic subplot of The Small House at Allington back in 1864.
This, to me, is close to the whole point of writing novels as a series, as an extended serial. It allows the fictional passage of time to line up with the actual passage of time, resulting in some powerful effects, which I have tossed aside by reading the books at a rate of two per year.
Bluntly, the last two books, The Prime Minister and this one, are on the weaker side, but good enough that I don’t care. The problems the Duke and his children face recapitulate a number of the most important themes of the series, the fox hunting scenes do not go on all that long, the new plotline about horse racing – well here’s what Trollope says about that:
How that race was run… the present writer having no aptitude in that way, cannot describe. (Ch. 17)
Some of Trollope’s fox hunts have a sportscaster quality – heaven help me, he is going to call the entire match – so even though several of the greatest scenes in the 19th century novel are horse racing scenes, I did not quite trust Trollope on this matter. But everything’s fine. It’s just a way to get rich characters to do a lot of idiotic gambling, and it keeps the “con man” theme of the series going, in the fine minor character Major Tifto.
The minor characters are at their usual level, like the equally fine Miss Cassewary:
‘That's d---- nonsense,’ said the Earl. Miss Cassewary gave a start, – not, we may presume, because she was shocked, for she could not be much shocked, having heard the same word from the same lips very often; but she thought it right always to enter a protest. (Ch. 9)
This chapter is entitled “’In media res,’” and it includes the only extended metafictional joke in the book, another old theme brought back for a last run, as Trollope tells his reader that he is going to start in the middle of a plot (“but only for a branch of my story”), putting the cart before the horse, the horse being all of the exposition, but warns that however much he tries to hide it the horse will still be there. Then throughout the chapter he points out whenever the characters discuss their backgrounds or whatnot by saying things like “This is another bit of the horse.”
Two lines that summarize much of the emotional content of the novel:
Mary, who watched it all, was sure that misery was being prepared for someone. (Ch. 59)
‘Young ladies generally have a bad time of it.’ (Ch. 53)
As in George Meredith’s The Egoist from just a year before – I wonder if Trollope knew it – five characters need to be arranged into couples; thus the misery, thus the bad time. No, not for everyone.
Trollope would die two years later, and this novel would have provided a natural and satisfying close to his career, but he published at least four more novels in the last two years of his life, so forget that idea.