The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
The Eustace Diamonds is probably the most well-recognized of the Palliser novels… a series written by Anthony Trollope in the 1870’s.
The author’s theme centers on society in Victorian London where there were few wealthy people, a small middle class, vast distinction between the “haves and the have-nots”, and a commonly accepted practice of marrying for money and status. Life was not easy, especially for women. They could not hold positions of power and even if they inherited money, staying single was not an option. They needed an escort… a protector… a husband… to give them even minimal recognition, status, and credibility.
This story focuses on the greed of Lizzie Eustace and the extremes to which she goes to achieve wealth and local fame, and her stubborn determination to hold onto a very expensive heirloom diamond necklace that rightfully belongs to her late husband’s estate. The plot – similar to Age of Innocence – involves the allure of a beautiful non-conformist woman who is perceived to have “scandalous” behavior, and a respected gentleman bachelor – Lizzie’s cousin Frank – who is torn between maintaining proper social protocol and the temptations of the flirtatious seductress. Subplots involve Lizzie’s other suitors, friends, and house guests including one plain, lower class governess who is madly in love with Frank.
I liked the writing style, the satire, the humor, and the philosophical message of The Eustace Diamonds but found myself personally offended by the blatant amount of anti-Semitism. True enough that during this era in Eastern Europe, Jewish people often found themselves on the fringes of society. But in Trollope’s view, all Jewish people were villains and all villains just happened to be Jewish. He consistently describes them as “dark, shady, greasy, characters”.
This was my first experience reading Trollope and I was curious to learn if he used harsh, derogatory descriptions of Jewish people in any of his other numerous novels. Upon googling “Trollope” and “Anti-Semitism”, I was astounded to uncover 6,040 similar observations by others. I suppose the Jewish characters of his numerous novels could have merely been a reflection of upper-class British mentality during that era, but he certainly didn’t attempt to dispel the negative stereotype. Instead he exploited and capitalized on it.
Trollope may have been the most “successful, prolific, respected English Novelist of the Victorian era” (quoted from Wikipedia), but he apparently had been an embarrassingly small-minded man in terms of today’s thinking.
Rated 3.5 Stars.
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