Diamonds Are A Girl’s Worst Enemy

After a hard month reading and reviewing German literature, it’s time to kick off my shoes and slip into something a little more comfortable, and those of you who have been around my blog for a while will know that there’s little I find as comforting as a reread of some of my favourite Victorian literature.  So today, for the third time this year, we’re heading back into Anthony Trollope’s Palliser Novels for a little R & R – slippers please…

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The Eustace Diamonds is the third of Trollope’s ‘political’ Palliser novels, but it is perhaps the least political of them all.  The story centres around Lady Elizabeth Eustace (known to her friends as Lizzie), a young, beautiful widow, who has made her fortune by capturing the hand of a Lord, shortly before his death through dissipation.  Not content with being left money, property and a regular income in her husband’s will, Lizzie decides to appropriate a diamond necklace which is in her possession at the time of her husband’s death – an ornament which the family lawyers are not prepared to let her have.

Lizzie, attempting to brazen out the situation, decides that her case will be better served by finding a new partner to fight her battles for her; the only problem is that the men she considers as potential partners all want her to give the diamonds back.  As the cunning Lady regards her potential beaus (the dull but steady Lord Fawn, her manly barrister cousin Frank Greystock, and the slightly dangerous Lord George de Bruce Carruthers), she continues to fight off the best attempts of the lawyers to seize the jewels.  Until, that is, someone else takes an interest in the precious stones…

I’ll get it out in the open at once – The Eustace Diamonds is one of my least favourite Trollope books.  I had that feeling before starting it this time, and my opinion certainly hadn’t changed by the time I got to the last page.  Although the Pallisers are mentioned several times over the course of the two volumes, the reality is that this is a stand-alone novel, and one which (in my opinion) overstays its welcome.

The key to the novel is the character of Lizzie Eustace, a no-good, cunning, treacherous gold-digger, who would remind any well-read Victorian of Thackeray’s own villainess, Becky Sharpe.  To succeed in her intrigues though, Lizzie needs the men surrounding her to be almost as bad as she is, and this is where Trollope falls down a little in this book.  The world seems incapable of doing anything about Lizzie’s antics, and despite Trollope’s constant explanations as to why people are content to have the wool pulled over their eyes, it feels like a bit of a hollow argument.

Of course, it’s not all bad (I wouldn’t be reading it if it was…).  Lizzie is gradually worn down over the course of time by the pressure of having to fight for ‘her’ diamonds, and the writer describes Lizzie’s psychological ordeal perfectly.  In fact, the diamonds almost become a character in their own right, one whose whereabouts are of pivotal importance to the story.  The idea of an item of great value becoming a burden not worth keeping, but equally something which you cannot part from, is not exactly unique in literature (my precious…), and Trollope almost makes you pity poor Lizzie – but not quite 😉

As always, Trollope also has a keen eye for the problems of Victorian women in their quest to be well married and less of a burden for those who must support them.  Quite apart from Lizzie’s own need for a husband, there are several other marriage sub-plots, not all of which end well.  In particular, the frightening engagement of Lucinda Roanoake, a beautiful young American, and Sir Griffin Tewett, a brutal aristocrat, a ‘romance’ which ends with suspected mental illness, is one to put you off marriage for life…

At the end of the day though, I was very glad to get to the end of the novel, anticipating happier times when the series moves on to the next stop, Phineas Redux, featuring the return of our Irish friend Phineas Finn.  And, coincidentally, it was a character from Phineas Finn, Lord Chiltern, who best summed up my feelings about The Eustace Diamonds on the very last page:

“I never was so sick of anything in my life as I am of Lady Eustace.  People have talked about her now for the last six months… And all that I can hear of her is, that she has told a lot of lies and lost a necklace.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself  🙂

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18 thoughts on “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Worst Enemy

  1. I haven't read a Trollope yet but think this isn't the place to start although, judging from the last quote, it must have elements I'd, like. I think Guy is currently reading one and I'm curious to find out how he liked it (not sure which one).
    Which one would you recommend to a “beginner”? They are all on the bulky side, right?

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  2. Gary – Not quite, but it's one I read simply because it's part of a series. In fact, I may keep this in mind when reading the later books to see if it's necessary next time 😉

    Caroline – I always recommend 'The Warden' as it's short and the first in the series of the six Barsetshire Chronicles. It also leads nicely onto the next in the series, 'Barchester Towers' 🙂

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  3. Although I've read a few by Wharton, I haven't read this one, so I can't really comment. Lizzie is definitely a social climber, but she's empty-headed and a bit nasty really – not a very likeable character 😉

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  4. Emma – Well, I'll have to read it myself to find out 😉

    Tom – Don't let me put you off too much! It's worth reading, but not his best, more for those on a journey through the whole Palliser series.

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  5. I discovered Trollope early this year when I was reading the William Trevor short story, “After Rain,” in which one of the characters is reading his “The Small House at Allington” while on holiday. On a lark, I bought it and read it too, enjoying it very much.

    I also read his autobiography, which was, I think, among the better autobiographies of authors that I have read. I then resolved to read the Barsetshire series, and have completed The Warden and bought Barchester Towers but haven't started it yet.

    Another blogger I follow, Ana the Imp, has been reading through the Palliser series too.

    I'm just happy to “discover” a new author who was as prolific as Trollope, which means a nearly inexhaustible source of new books for me… 🙂

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  6. Hello Tony: I just finished the first Palliser novel Can You Forgive Her? (no review yet) and loved it. I think Alice's dilemma (Mr Grey or George) isn't entirely explained, but the novel, overall was great fun.

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  7. Bibliophilica – Reviews of all those (and more!) on my blog – I do love Trollope (apart from this one, obviously!). It's good to have over fifty to choose from, but with the need for rereading, it's hard to get past about fifteen! And yes, I agree regarding the Autobiography – a great read 🙂

    Guy – It's not my favourite, but it is a great one to read. I think I read it a few months back (?) – ah, yes, here we go:

    http://tonysreadinglist.blogspot.com/2011/08/last-chronicle-of-v-lit.html

    Great fun indeed 🙂 In my view though, 'Phineas Finn', the next of the Palliser novels, is a far better book, so you have a lot to look forward to 🙂

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  8. I sort of like wicked characters–they can be so much more interesting than your standard nice guy/gal. I've not read Trollope, but I have The Warden and have heard that is the place to start…only The Warden sort of doesn't appeal to me–but maybe I just need to dive right in and it will be better than I think?

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  9. You're asking the wrong person as I love Trollope, and I adore 'The Warden'! There are parts of it which may seem of little interest, but it is a wonderful study of character and moral resolve, and it leads on nicely to 'Barchester Towers', the next in the series and one of Trollope's most popular books 🙂

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  10. Okay, so I've added Trollope's The Warden to my list. Maybe I'm just afraid I'll love him and then will have to read all his books…and he's written how many? I do this to myself quite often.

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