Saturday, June 29, 2019

"The Eustace Diamonds" by Anthony Trollope

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
“The Eustace Diamonds” by Anthony Trollope
June 29, 2019
She looks like a beautiful animal you are afraid to caress for fear it should bite you –
 an animal that would be beautiful if its eyes were not so restless, and its teeth so sharp and white.”
                                                                        Lucy Morris to Frank Greystock regarding Lady Eustace
                                                                        The Eustace Diamonds, 1872
                                                                        Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

When one puts down a Trollope, or any good novel, one bids adieu to friends – those we have come to know, most of whom we like, perhaps others we don’t. Like a journey’s end, one feels good in the accomplishment but sad that the adventure is over. But memories have been forever etched.

This is a story of greed and generosity, of calumny and compliment, of shallowness and strength. It is a tale of how small lies turn into big ones with devastating effect. It is the story of Lizzie Eustace a young woman, recently widowed from a rich husband, Sir Florian Eustace. Lizzie is smart and manipulative, beautiful and vicious. Before getting married, she had lied to her husband about a debt she had incurred. Her husband learned of her lie but died while on their honeymoon; so that what happened in Naples stayed in Naples.

The centerpiece of the story are the Eustace diamonds, a valuable necklace, estimated to be worth £10,000 – approximately $1,000,000 today. They were given her by the late Sir Florian under disputed conditions. However, as an inveterate liar, Lizzie’s version is certain to be wrong. She tells all who will listen that the necklace is rightfully hers, but the Eustace family lawyer, Mr. Camperdown, claims it as an heirloom, thus belongs to the Eustace family. As well, she inherited Portray, a Eustace family castle in Scotland with an annual income of£4000. Lizzie has an infant son who will eventually inherit the title and, thus, the diamonds. But it is her self-inflicted indebtedness and her proclivity to lie that concerns Mr. Camperdown.

In contrast to Lizzie, there is Lucy Morris, a governess to the Fawn family and the young lady with whom Frank Greystock has fallen in love. Frank is an impecunious lawyer and Member of Parliament, as well as Lizzie’s cousin and sometimes lover. He vacillates between the two women, attracted to one but infatuated by the other. He becomes engaged to Lucy but spends more time than necessary with the temptress Lizzie. In the end, honor prevails, and he decides in Lucy’s favor: “…a man captivated by wiles was only captivated for a time, whereas a man won by simplicity would be won for ever – if he himself were worth the winning.”

Other characters include Lord Fawn, a weak but titled man (he “…could not think and hear at the same time.”) to whom Lizzie has become engaged We come to know Lord Fawn’s mother, an honorable woman, along with her unmarried daughters, all of whom love Lucy, but not Lizzie. We meet Mrs. Carbuncle, her niece Lucinda Roanoke who becomes (temporarily) engaged to Sir Griffin, Lord George, Mr. Emilius and John Eustace, brother to the late Sir Florian and the closest person the story has to a hero. There are myriad detectives and servants we get to know. Portray’s manager, for example, is a dour Scot, Mr. Gowran, a man who is protective of the property, but not of Lizzie. He provides some of the story’s lighter moments.

Frank is conflicted. He has a need for money, which the £4000 per year that is Lizzie’s would be of use should he marry his cousin. But he loves the decent Lucy. (“There was no doubt about Lucy being as good as gold – only that real gold, vile as it is, was the one thing Frank needed so much.”) Early in the story, walking through Grosvenor Square he recites the Quaker’s advice to the old farmer, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Northern Farmer, New Style:” “Doänt thou marry for money, but goäwheer munny is!”    

There are stories within stories and plots within plots. We follow Lizzie to Scotland and are witness to a vivid description of a foxhunt. We re-meet friends from previous novels, like Lady Glencora, Plantaganet Palliser, Madam Max and the Duke of Omnium. As this is the third in the Palliser series, politics play a role. We learn about a bill introduced by John Stuart Mill granting enfranchisement to women, which was defeated in 1867, five years before the publication of this novel. We learn about attempts to bring decimalization to British currency, and that a farthing, by definition, was one quarter of a penny, a puzzle for those who wanted to reform the currency, which would turn a farthing into a fifth of a penny. 

One of the best reasons for reading classics is the wisdom imparted, something not found in non-fiction. The character traits of those who populate these novels remain current across time and generations. Unlike some of Trollope, this story ends happily, if not for Lizzie, at least for the reader. One personal note: If remaining stoic in the face of happy outcomes is a sign of masculinity, I fail the test. I blubber in movies when things end happily. In The Eustace Diamonds, when good finally triumphed over evil, tears streamed down my face, as joy in the outcome clashed with regret that the end had arrived.

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