Book Notes: Anthony Trollope’s The Duke’s Children

Trollope is an amazing writer, folks. With almost nothing by way of a plot, he creates the kind of 800-page novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat and frantically turning pages to find out what happened next. I read the new Penguin edition, which is 25% longer than the one normally available because Trollope had had to pare it down massively for publication. I compared both versions, and the unabridged one is definitely better.

This is the last novel in the Palliser series, but as the novel’s characters would say, that doesn’t signify. The novel works perfectly well as a standalone. Today’s writers could learn a lot from Trollope in terms of how to do this without obnoxiously recapping all of the previous novels in the series.

As I said, the plot is very simple. The Duke, a great politician and a man of unrivaled moral character, discovers that his adult children are total shits. They are not bad people. They are just dumb, vain, useless, and, worst of all, weak. This is a crushing blow to the Duke who can’t understand how he could have produced a bunch of such losers. But they are his children, he loves them, so he makes a huge effort and remains gentle, kind and supportive of them. And he even schools himself into doing that sincerely.

It is a great novel because fatherhood is not caricatured in it, as often happens. There are great novelistic depictions of frustrated fatherhood but not that many that depict realistically a relationship between a loving father and equally loving adult children.

There isn’t a whole lot of politics in the novel, and what there is ends up being so similar to the political practices of today that it’s hilarious. The scenes where candidates go out to drum up the vote are priceless.

In the end, the Duke goes back to work because that’s something that is always there to give life meaning and it reconciles him with his immense disappointment in his children. A disappointment that he never allows himself to acknowledge because that’s what a parent’s love is.

A beautiful novel, and I’m glad it was part of my birthday challenge. It might look weird that one puts aside everything else at the end of the academic year and reads a long novel that in no way relates to one’s work but I don’t see the point of leading the sort of life that has no space in it for “useless”, pleasurable reading.

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6 thoughts on “Book Notes: Anthony Trollope’s The Duke’s Children”

  1. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! I think Trollope is tremendously underrated. I don’t understand why people seem to prefer the melodramatic Dickens to Trollope’s carefully considered realism.

    For truly fluffy reading, Angela Thirkell has a long series set in 1920s-’50s Barsetshire featuring the descendants of Trollope’s families. They also lack plot and are very classist, but are amusing and comforting if you like that sort of thing. Some of the families still tell stories about Trollope details like the string of pearls inherited from great-grandmother. They might be too lightweight for you, though.

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    1. I love Trollope. It’s painful because I wish I could just drop everything and start the whole Palliser series from the beginning. I will probably end up giving in to the temptation. 🙂

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  2. A very interesting review and I’ll try to read the book during my summer vacation.
    Would you like me to share with you “The Tortilla Curtain” I’ve previously recommended?

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