No, not David Cameron -- no giving up called for there, as I knew from the start he was going to be a dead loss. I'm talking about the penultimate novel in the Palliser series, which I chose rather at random as a follow on to the Barchester chronicles.
Could it be that my love affair with Anthony Trollope is over? I do so hope not -- perhaps it's just one of those temporary disagreements that will happen in any relationship, and which AT himself depicts so delightfully in so many great novels. But I'm afraid I have decided on a trial separation, at least from this novel, having read only half of it.
What happened? Well, Ferdinand Lopez happened. Lopez is a central character in the novel, and, though admittedly the first time we meet him he is behaving in a slightly dodgy way, I took to him tremendously. Intelligent, attractive and charming, he has won the heart of Emily Wharton and loves her sincerely in return. But the chances of their being able to marry seem slim, because Emily's father, a highly conservative QC, dislikes Lopez intensely. And why? Because not only does he have a foreign name -- said to be Portuguese -- but Wharton believes him to be Jewish and definitely (therefore) not a gentleman.
Now I thought Wharton was a ghastly old stick in the mud, and rejoiced when circumstances forced him to agree to the marriage, though I thought it was extremely mean of him to deny Emily the £60,000 he had intended to give her if she married the man he wanted her to marry, pretty, and pretty boring, Arthur Fletcher. The young couple could really have done with the money, as Lopez was trying to set himself up in business, which seemed to be something to do with importing guano from South America. I was also glad when he found favour with Glencora Palliser, the wife of the new prime minister, and hoped that with her support he would manage to get a seat in parliament.
But alas, as time went on, I saw that I was barking up the wrong tree, or backing the wrong horse, as far as Trollope was concerned. Glencora's husband disliked Lopez, probably for the same reasons as Wharton, and forced her to withdraw her support from him. So he didn't get elected, and I'm afraid he started behaving rather badly. And at this point, having had recourse to some summaries of the novel, I realised that things were going to go from bad to worse, and that's when I decided to give up.
That may seem very weedy of me, but unfortunately the novel was showing me aspects of Trollope which I found quite disturbing. I knew he was keen that men should be gentlemen, but I wasn't aware of how deeply this might affect his view of certain characters and in fact it was impossible not to think that he was showing himself as not only snobbish but also anti-semitic. And if that wasn't bad enough, he was evidently condemning Emily for marrying without her father's consent, and Glencora for making friends who her husband didn't like. Women should be obedient, seemed to be the message here.
Of course you could say that all this makes the novel even more interesting, and probably it does. Indeed I will certainly go back and finish it at some point. After all, why should we read novels only if we agree with the political and social views of their authors? And in any case, it seems to me that Trollope's attitude to Lopez must be ambivalent -- there's so much apparent sympathy for the man in the first chapter. So maybe I'm missing the point?
It's interesting, though, that this isn't the only novel of Trollope's that I've abandoned before the end. I did the same thing with Can You Forgive Her, because I got so irritated with Alice Vavasour, who dithered between two lovers and ended up choosing the boring one. And I've not re-read The Small House at Allington because of my irritation with Lily Dale. You might well say it was time I grew up and got a bit more objective -- time I started admiring Trollope's amazing skill in creating characters who are so real that people find themselves identifying with them too much, for better or worse.
For the moment, though, I'm giving this novel a rest. Not so for Trollope, though. I've just got my copy of Victoria Glendenning's biography, and I'm also planning to go back to the beginning of the Palliser novels, as I think it was a mistake to plunge in to such a late one. I suspect when I do start The Prime Minister again -- and I think that it's called for to start again at the beginning rather than go on from where I left off -- I shall be reading it from a rather different perspective. Just shows -- we're never too old to learn.