Parliament Lost: Phineas Finn

  • John Halperin


While Phineas Finn may not be the best of the Palliser novels (indeed, I reserve that distinction for The Duke’s Children), it is undoubtedly one of the three more purely political novels of the six — less melodramatic and contrived than Phineas Redux, more single-mindedly focused on politicians and political processes than The Prime Minister. It may well be the best political novel in English. “There is nothing much like Phineas Finn in English fiction,” one critic has written; it is a political novel “of extraordinary range.” Even Booth, no friend of the Pallisers, called “Phineas Finn” “the best of the Palliser novels [and] still good reading.” Trollope himself, though stating clearly his preference for “Orley Farm” and The Last Chronicle of Barset (always two favorites of his and the public), remarks in the Autobiography that “Phineas Finn? was successful from first to last” (p. 275). He presumably means “successful“ as a novel, and with some of the general public — for the fact is that contemporary reviewers, perhaps regretting that The Last Chronicle of Barset really was the last, found little to like in the book.1 For Trollope, it was sufficient that “the men who would have lived with Phineas Finn read the book, and the women who would have lived with Lady Laura Standish read it also” — for, he says, “As this was what I had intended, I was contented” (Autobiography, p. 273).


Prime Minister Party Line Political Career Independent Member Political Character 
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  1. 10.
    The argument of this paragraph is derived largely from Snow, pp. 66 and 83; see also Booth, pp. 119–20, Escott. p. 298, and Bradford A. Booth, “Trollope and Little Dorrit” NCF, 2 (March 1948), 237–40.Google Scholar
  2. 15.
    I am indebted to the summary given by David Skilton in “The Fixed Period: Anthony Trollope’s Novel of 1980,” Studies in the Literary Imagination, 6, No. 2 (Fall 1973), 39–50.Google Scholar
  3. 20.
    Escott, Sadleir, Booth, and apRoberts all ascribe Lord Palmerston to the period 1866–7, but without attribution or proof of any sort. There is nothing in Trollope’s business papers to suggest that he was working on Lord Palmerston in the sixties. There is, however, a memorandum in the novelist’s hand (Papers, II, Folio 116) dated 24 August 1881 noting his agreement “to write a volume on Lord Palmerston — 200 pages — for £200 — for W. Isbister — to be delivered in March-1882.” This evidence — and the fact that the memoir did not appear until 1882 — suggests that all of these critics are wrong. Booth, in fact, admitted in an article published several years after his monograph that there is no evidence that Trollope wrote Lord Palmerston in the sixties; he has come to assume, he says here, that it was “written to order in 1881.” Surely this is right.Google Scholar
  4. See Booth’s “Author to Publisher: Trollope and Isbister,” PULC, 24, No. 1 (Winter 1962), 58n.Google Scholar
  5. 21.
    These points are made by Frank E. Robbins, “Chronology and History in Trollope’s Barset and Parliamentary Novels,” NCF, 5 (March 1951), 310–12Google Scholar
  6. And J. R. Dinwiddy, “Who’s Who in Trollope’s Political Novels,” NCF, 22 (June 1967), 31–46. Palmerston, incidentally, is mentioned twice by name in Phineas Finn (I, 195–6).Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    R. W. Chapman, “Personal Names in Trollope’s Political Novels,” in Essays mainly on the Nineteenth Century presented to Sir Humphrey Milford(London, 1948), p. 75.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    See Escott, p. 258, and Speare, p. 189. Burke’s feelings on the matter are available, among other places, in Boswell’s account of a meeting of “The Club” on 3 April 1778, as reported in his Life of Johnson (1791). See also John Wain, Samuel Johnson (London, 1974), p. 238; it is Wain’s account that suggested to me the relevance of this aspect of Burke’s thought. It should also be pointed out that Monck was the name of the governor-general of Canada with whom Trollope stayed during his visit there and was on excellent terms. The novelist’s usual compositional habits suggest less that this Monck and the fictional politician are identical than that Trollope may have used the name of a person he esteemed for a character he esteemed.Google Scholar
  9. 33.
    The argument of this paragraph is largely derived from an unpublished essay by Janet Egleson Dunleavy entitled “Irish Politics and the Novels of Anthony Trollope”; I am grateful to Professor Dunleavy for making a draft of her essay available to me. She also suggests that Trollope, at least in retrospect, had some sympathy for the Tenant Right League. Historian Stephen Gwynn points out that while Trollope in his Irish fiction attacks injustices within the land system he never attacks the system itself and that he seems to feel that if specific Irish landlords are bad they should simply be replaced by better ones — thus he would be likely to oppose any attempt by government to regulate free enterprise. See Gwynn’s “Trollope in Ireland,” Contemporary Review, 129 (January 1926), 72–9.Google Scholar

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© John Halperin 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Halperin
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaUSA

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