Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1270
Young Phineas Finn, just admitted to the bar, is tempted to postpone his career as a barrister by an offer to run for election as a member of Parliament from the Irish borough of Loughshane. Phineas’s father, a hardworking doctor, reluctantly agrees to support Phineas, as a member of Parliament receives no salary and can only hope that once his party is in power he will be rewarded with a lucrative office.
Phineas is elected. Among those to whom he says good-bye before leaving for London is pretty Mary Flood Jones, a girl devoted to Phineas but no richer than he. Phineas’s well-wishers in London include Lady Laura Standish, the daughter of Lord Brentford, an influential Whig. Phineas begins to fall in love with Laura and sees a rival in the aloof and unprepossessing but rich Mr. Kennedy, who is also a Whig and a member of Parliament. Laura tries to encourage a friendship between Phineas and her brother, Lord Chiltern, a violent young man who has quarreled with their father. Lord Brentford has made it clear that he will reconcile with his son if Chiltern marries rich, lovely, and witty Violet Effingham, a friend from childhood. Chiltern loves her deeply and has proposed repeatedly, but Violet is levelheaded and, although she is fond of Chiltern, does not intend to ruin herself deliberately.
At Laura’s recommendation, Phineas accepts an invitation to visit Loughlinter, the Kennedy estate in Scotland. Phineas makes friends there with several Whig leaders and becomes the special disciple of Mr. Monk, a cabinet minister with independent views. Phineas proposes to Laura, who tells him she is engaged to marry Kennedy. She explains that, against her father’s wishes, she has exhausted her personal fortune by paying her brother’s debts; she is consequently obliged to marry someone with money.
Last-minute fright prevents Phineas from carrying out his elaborate plans for his first speech in Parliament. Laura has been married for several months when she begins to find life with her strict, demanding husband oppressive. Chiltern, having once again unsuccessfully proposed to Violet, invites Phineas to hunt with him. During the hunt, Chiltern suffers an injury and Phineas takes cares of him; the two become close friends. Although he has no hopes for being successful with Violet, the young nobleman confides to Phineas that he will fight any other aspirant for her hand.
In the voting on the Reform Bill, the question of the ballot divides Parliament, and the government is dissolved. The capriciousness of Lord Tulla, who had ensured Phineas’s original success, prevents Phineas from running again for the Loughshane parliamentary seat. Lord Brentford, however, who has the English borough of Loughton “in his pocket,” offers that seat to Phineas, who is easily elected.
Phineas, who had rescued Kennedy from two attackers late one night, visits at Loughlinter again. Gradually, he has transferred his affections from Laura to Violet, but his plan to confide in Laura is prevented by her confession to him that life with her husband has grown intolerable. Phineas, despairing of an opportunity to see Violet, finds his excuse in a letter from Chiltern that contains a conciliatory message for his father. Phineas takes the letter to Lord Brentford, at whose house Violet is staying. Lord Brentford agrees to forgive his son if Chiltern resumes his courtship of Violet. Phineas sends this message to Chiltern; to avoid duplicity, he adds that he himself hopes to win Violet’s hand. He later finds the opportunity to propose to Violet. Although she rejects him, he feels that her negative answer is not conclusive.
Because Phineas refuses to give up his courtship of Violet, Chiltern challenges him to a duel. They fight secretly in Belgium, but word of the duel leaks out afterward, partly because of...
(The entire section contains 1270 words.)
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