This is the first novel in Trollope's "Palliser" series, introducing the central characters with the marriage of the flirtatious, flighty and beautiful Lady Glencora M'Cluskey and Plantagenet Palliser, rising Liberal politician and heir to the Duke of Omnium. Politics are never far away in these novels, but this particular installment in the series concentrates heavily on the dilemmas of two women, Lady Glencora, in love with a worthless reprobate, and married against her will to an earnest, good, but essentially dull man; and her cousin Alice Vavasor, who vacillates helplessly between two suitors, the handsome, good and safe John Grey, and her charismatic and dangerous cousin George, who shares her fascination with politics, and to whom she was once engaged.
No male Victorian novelist wrote more sympathetically about women than Trollope, but there is one issue on which he is perversely prejudiced, and that is in his belief that a woman, once she has given her heart and hand, should not change her mind, or ever fall in love with anybody else. In a previous novel, "The Small House at Allington", the heroine, Lily Dale, falls in love with a cad who jilts her, and then spends hundreds of pages refusing to marry a man who truly loves her, before finally dwindling into an old maid rather than betray her first love. Even at the time of publication, this was considered extremely unreasonable, and Trollope received many letters from irritated readers demanding that Lily should be allowed to marry her second suitor. (Modern readers generally feel more inclined to punch her.) At least by "Can You Forgive Her?", Trollope was more realistic on the subject: though Alice breaks off not one but two engagements, after many travails she is allowed a happy ending, and not even Trollope would have dared suggest that Glencora would have been happier with Burgo Fitzgerald.
All Timothy West's recordings of Trollope are brilliant and this is no exception. Highly recommended
The third novel in the Pallisers series, "The Eustace Diamonds" is the least overtly political, though some of the main characters from the series re-appear in the book in minor roles. It could certainly be read independently of the other books in the series.
Lizzie Eustace is in many respects a latter-day Becky Sharp. Though less ruthless and more self-deceiving than Thackeray's anti-heroine, she is shallow, beautiful, manipulative, and without redeeming qualities. After marrying the dying Sir Florian Eustace for his money, she embarks on an expensive career as a society widow, and the story revolves around her possession—and subsequent loss—of a diamond necklace which has been an heirloom in the Eustace family, and which she claims is her personal property.
Though real-life Lizzies are highly unpleasant people, the fictional version is highly entertaining, and after several hundred pages of gripping legal, criminal and shenanigans, it is hard not to feel sorry when the naughty Lady Eustace is finally delivered up to her fate. The reading, by Timothy West, is top-notch. If you are not familiar with Trollope's work, this is as good a place as any to start.
This is a favourite book of mine: intelligent, witty and with what must be one of the saddest final lines in literature. Though I have read it countless times, I was thrilled to find it had been released as an audiobook, and very much enjoyed listening to it. Emilia Fox does an excellent job of the reading, and I hope very much that the companion novel, Love in a Cold Climate (which shares many of the settings and characters), also gets released for audio.
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