The Eustace Diamonds – Anthony Trollope
There’s something comforting about settling down to a Trollope, especially when the nights draw in quickly and the rain beats the window and the wind whistles round the chimney. A Victorian comfort blanket, to be sure, and solid and dependable too. With Trollope do not expect flashy or over-elaborate plots. Instead, you get a steady, almost metronomic, development of plot and character told in order and without rush.
To be overly critical, many of Trollope’s books are much ado about relatively little. The Eustace Diamonds revolves around whether Lizzie Greystock was really entitled to the diamonds after her hubbie had died and her machinations to maintain control over them. There is some love interest as Lizzie tries to lure the lover of faithful Lucy Morris, Frank Greystock, with her charms. The second half of the book concerns itself in part with the workings of the London detectives as they grapple with the mysteries of the disappearance of Lizzie’s diamonds and the subsequent court case. And, of course, it mostly ends all happily ever after.
Published in every two weeks in the Fortnightly Review between July 1871 and February 1873 and in book form in October 1872, the Diamonds is regarded as being the third novel in the Pallisers’ series. That said, the Palliser family are rarely centre stage, Plantagenet and Lady Glencora Palliser and the Duke of Omnium featuring in a few minor scenes and more in the role of a Greek chorus passing their (disapproving) comments on the latest example of Lizzie’s effrontery.
It is the character of Lizzie that is the most interesting aspect of the book. She is bad, grasping, cheating, lying, manipulative. I knew we were in trouble with her when she was spotted with a book of Shelley’s poems – anyone reading Shelley in a Trollope book is a bad egg. She is all front, all for appearance, even her supposed literary knowledge and taste is founded on sand, “she did like reading, and especially the reading of poetry – though even in this she was false and pretentious, skipping, pretending to have read, lying about books, and making up her market of literature for outside admiration at the easiest possible cost of trouble”. As Trollope admits in one of his authorial interjections Lizzie is a poor man’s Becky Sharp who “thought she could be a good woman if she had five thousand a year”. Thackeray’s femme fatale is a more rounded, more believably wicked woman.
Trollope starts the story off with an odd observation, “we will tell the story of Lizzie Greystock from the beginning, but we will not dwell over it at great length, as we might do if we loved her”. Her polar opposite is the almost saintly Lucy Morris – in marked contrast to Lizzie’s fast and loose approach to literature, Lucy catalogues a library. Trollope’s sympathies are with Lucy, not Lizzie. For those whose exposure to Trollope has been the delightful world of Barsetshire this is an altogether different world. There is a darker tone to the book – there are many references to hate and hatred. We are in a world of falsity and lies. The only real thing about Lizzie is her diamonds and they are not hers.
Probably not one of his best but there is enough in the book to keep the reader entertained.