(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Phineas (FIHN-ee-uhs) was an ascetic who lived for a time in Lydda and was famous for his brilliance, piety, and ability to perform miracles. He was son-in-law of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai and a contemporary of Rabbi Yehudah ha Nasi. He emphasized tithes to the point of fanaticism. His concern for cleanliness caused him never to accept an invitation to dine with another, including members of his family. In debate over Jewish religious law, he is reputed to have been rigid, but his saintly character and pious living overshadowed that. Subsequent generations have ascribed authorship of Midrash Tadshe to him (known as the Baraitha of Phinehas ben Jair).

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Great Britain’s capital city encompasses the world that the personable young Irishman with political aspirations, Phineas Finn, is trying to reach, as well as the world he is trying to leave. While the characters inhabiting this novel’s London are fictional, the novel’s places are either real or based on real places. Even though he is a new member of Parliament, Phineas continues to live as he had as a barrister in training, in lodgings in London’s Great Marlborough Street and as a member of the Reform Club. As his career advances, he eventually moves to a more fashionable street and joins Brooks’ Club, both of which better suit his rising political and social profile.

London’s House of Commons and Foreign Office are the world to which Phineas strives. Both government centers are initially forbidding to him, but as his career develops, they become comfortable to him. His experience on a parliamentary committee investigating tinned beans represents how the time of effective politicians can be wasted. However, his time in the Foreign Office shows how budding politicians can be useful when he investigates a shipping question in Canada. Ultimately, he performs his greatest political act in the House, when he votes his conscience by supporting a bill that the rest of his party opposes. His support exiles him from both places, but permits him to leave believing in the importance of his principles.

The private London homes among which Finn circulates offer political and social opportunity. The Portman Square home of Whig cabinet member Lord Brentford, for example, represents the political and titled social establishment, to which Phineas is introduced by Lady Laura Standish, Brentford’s daughter. There Phineas meets the other cabinet members and rising Whig politicians. One evening, while departing from the...

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

In his teaching, Phineas lamented the spiritual decline of the generations after the Babylonian destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 587 or 586 b.c.e. He therefore placed emphasis on right intention in religious behavior and drew up a well-known chain of virtues:

Observance of the law leads to fastidiousness; fastidiousness to diligence; to cleanliness; abstinence, purity, fear of God, humility, holiness, modesty, piety, to the Holy Spirit, and to the resurrection of the dead which comes through Elijah.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Kugel, James L. The Bible as It Was. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Me’ir, Ofrah. “Hamurato shel R. Pinhas ben Yair.” In Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore. Edited by Issachar Ben-Ami and Joseph Dan. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1983.


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Halperin, John. Trollope and Politics: A Study of the Pallisers and Others. London: Macmillan, 1977. Views Trollope’s political novels as a direct reflection of political activities of the day.

McMaster, Juliet. Trollope’s Palliser Novels: Theme and Pattern. London: Macmillan, 1978. A consideration of Trollope’s political novels from an aesthetic, nonpolitical point of view.

Pollard, Arthur. Trollope’s Political Novels. Hull, England: University of Hull, 1968. Argues that the effectiveness of Trollope’s political novels derives from the author’s own engagement in politics.

Sadleir, Michael. Trollope: A Commentary. 3d ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. A helpful biography on Trollope that focuses on the events of the author’s life and political career as reflected in his novels.

Trollope, Anthony. Phineas Finn: The Irish Member. Edited with an introduction by Jacques Berthoud. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Includes a good introduction to Phineas Finn, which elucidates the novel’s political and cultural background.