Trollope's editor didn't want him to use the title, as the public would probably take Redux for the gentleman's surname, but he insisted. In this novel, the sequel to PHINEAS FINN, an older, wiser, and widowed Phineas is given the same temptation toward a public life as before. But when he gets accused of murdering a fellow MP, is this the end for him?
Phineas and his character development are centred in this volume. His varying mental states are very well written, and Trollope is too good a writer to allow him to bounce back without a qualm from traumatising experiences. Phineas' scruples over the right way to form a parliamentary career after troubles have beset him are also worth reading. There's a brief moment of wish fulfilment when people abase themselves before Phineas' feet after his troubles are over, but other than that Phineas' path is interesting.
Lady Laura Kennedy returns from PHINEAS FINN, but is no longer an interesting character. Lady Laura was originally a fascinating and politically active woman, who refused Phineas at a time when she had given all her money away to her brother. Instead she married the wealthy Mr Kennedy, and chafed under his rule while he became abusive and mentally ill. Marital troubles and widowhood have aged and uglified Lady Laura, and so she's no longer a viable interest for Phineas. The double standard between Lady Laura and Madame Max Goesler doesn't make much sense: both had a first marriage to a wealthy man they didn't love, but Madame Goesler is the only one who's still able to marry a man her age.
Madame Max Goesler replaces Lady Laura's role, being a similarly sparkling and intelligent and determined woman. What interested me in her was the complex friendship between Madame Max and the old Duke of Omnium: Trollope allowed the elderly Duke to have an emotionally complicated relationship, and the characterisation is fascinating. Madame Max's network of relationships with Lady Glencora, Plantagenet Palliser, Phineas Finn, and the tensions around her place in society are interestingly complex. She's also a Jewish character, shown in a positive light (or at least said to be Jewish by Lady Laura). Trollope seems to enjoy writing her.
Lady Glencora is now the Duchess of Omnium, and her character has not changed: as delightful, impulsive, and kind as ever. Nothing will ever change the Duchess, the narrative says. Plantagenet Palliser also hasn't changed much after becoming a Duke. There is a good piece of dialogue about his character, between Phineas Finn and the Duke's cousin Adelaide Palliser:
"He is such a gentleman;—and, at the same time, the most abstract and the most concrete man that I know."
"Abstract and concrete!"
"You are bound to use adjectives of that sort now, Miss Palliser, if you mean to be anybody in conversation."
"But how is my cousin concrete? He is always abstracted when I speak to him, I know."
"No Englishman whom I have met is so broadly and intuitively and unceremoniously imbued with the simplicity of the character of a gentleman. He could no more lie than he could eat grass."
"Is that abstract or concrete?"
"That's abstract. And I know no one who is so capable of throwing himself into one matter for the sake of accomplishing that one thing at a time. That's concrete."
Adelaide Palliser's role in the plot could and should have been excised, unfortunately. She shows that even Dukes can have impoverished relations; she has a boring love story with a lazy man who doesn't deserve her; she receives an alternative marriage offer from a persistent boor with a red nose who isn't as hilarious as Trollope might have intended. None of this has anything to do with the other subplots in the novel.
Lady Eustace and Lord Fawn's appearances in the novel are more interesting cameos. Lady Eustace married the dubious preacher Emilius at the end of THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS, and lived to regret it - they separated and she is trying to prove bigamy on his part in order to escape. Since the murdered man was coming close to the truth of Emilius' bigamy, Emilius is the other main suspect. Lady Eustace's character has some interesting light shed on it in her cameo, which highlights her as a compulsive liar. She doesn't just lie because she is a selfish person; it comes across as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. An interesting character trait. In his cameo, Lord Fawn receives a comeuppance for his weakness and hesitation, for which sympathy is felt by very few.
This novel takes on some territory outside Trollope's normal areas (the detail of a murder case), and resolves Phineas Finn's character development and maturity. Scraps of the politically oriented plot also advance the Pallisers on their journey. Another Palliser novel - a fairly good one.