Critical Evaluation

The fourth novel of Anthony Trollope’s famous Palliser series, Phineas Redux extends the story of one of the author’s favorite heroes while offering a sobering portrait of political life in the nineteenth century. Inspired in part by Trollope’s own unsuccessful bid for political office, the novel exposes the backroom dealings that brought people to power and led to alliances more often aimed at keeping incumbents in office than doing what was right for the country.

At the center of the novel is the young Irish politician whose name graces two titles in the Palliser series. In the first, Phineas Finn, the Irish Member (1869), the hero is introduced to political life when he becomes the darling of high-ranking members of the Liberal party, including one destined to be prime minister, Plantagenet Palliser. At the end of that novel, Phineas leaves London for his homeland to marry his childhood sweetheart. When the action of Phineas Redux opens, he is back in London, a widower and political aspirant once more. Through him, Trollope gives readers a look at the machinations involved in bringing political issues before Parliament and the British people; he also gives a realistic look at campaigning techniques and the efforts of the press to influence political decisions.

Throughout the novel, the author’s focus is on character as well as action. In the course of running for a seat in Parliament, debating key issues such as church disestablishment, and defending himself against a murder charge, Phineas Finn emerges as a man of high moral fiber, willing to stand up for unpopular ideas even at the expense of losing favor with his own party. Trollope also portrays the human side of his hero, as he agonizes over his feelings for Laura Kennedy, once his beloved but now married to a man whose extreme jealousy leads to near catastrophe for the hero. Phineas engages in social situations with a number of other figures, notably Lady Glencora Palliser, Plantagenet’s wife; Madame Marie Max Goesler, a rich widow who assists in a number of ways to further his career; and the Chilterns, a family whose domestic bliss offers readers a portrait of the idyllic life prized by Trollope and many of his contemporaries.

A number of memorable villains also populate the novel, several of whom rise above the stereotypes normally associated with the popular fiction of the period. Phineas’s...

(The entire section is 991 words.)