Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Anthony Trollope is noted for his penetrating analysis of Victorian society; he is particularly noted for the manner in which he treats the understated interaction between virtue and hypocrisy. The values that motivate this interaction are the primary themes of the novel: marriage and money. In The Eustace Diamonds, marriage, the sanctioned union between man and woman in love, is an ill-considered venture for the bachelor without a personal fortune. Love, although ostensibly revered and idealized, is a secondary concern. Lizzie Eustace, the protagonist of the novel, is very beautiful and engagingly clever, but it is quite clearly the income inherited from her deceased husband that attracts her suitors. Her counterpart and diametric opposite, in both values and outward appearance, is Lucy Morris, plain, virtuous, highly principled, and penniless. Characteristic of Victorian novels, both women are orphans who enter adulthood without money; however, Lizzie, motivated by material ambition, seduces and charms a wealthy young nobleman in order to alter this condition. Lucy, however, is fundamentally incapable of seduction and duplicity. Once Frank Greystock has proposed marriage (to take place at some future undetermined time) her fidelity is constant and unwavering. Even when she is close to believing the popular view that Frank’s proposal has been hasty and impractical, and that the pressures of his fledgling political career may make it necessary for him to rescind his offer, she is quite willing to release him if that is his choice. She remains resolute and unvindictive in her belief in his goodness and integrity. Conversely, Lord Fawn’s second thoughts regarding his proposal to Lizzie inspire Lizzie to thoughts of vengeance and humiliation. The reader is fully aware of the fact that Lizzie will feel no ethical impediment in exacting her revenge. Lucy is incapable of telling a lie; Lizzie is almost incapable of telling the truth.

In The Eustace Diamonds, Trollope creates the same literary paradox that makes John Milton’s Satan a more compelling character than Christ in Paradise Lost (1667, 1674). Although Lucy is a...

(The entire section is 882 words.)