Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium and former Prime Minister of England, is widowed and wracked by grief. Struggling to adapt to life without his beloved Lady Glencora, he works hard to guide and support his three adult children. Palliser soon discovers, however, that his own plans for them are very different from their desires. Sent down from university in disgrace, his two sons quickly begin to run up gambling debts. His only daughter, meanwhile, longs passionately to marry the poor son of a county squire against her father’s will. But while the Duke’s dearest wishes for the three are thwarted one by one, he ultimately comes to understand that parents can learn from their own children. The Duke’s Children is the final volume in the 'Palliser' novels.
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One of Trollope's more domestic novels in which he focuses on characters we already know from their regular appearances in the Barchester novels. Action revolves around "Planty" Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, who tries to cope with the emergent independence of his three willful children after the death of his wife. Trollope lets the dynamics of the central personalities be the story. Simple motifs become engrossing through the author's great gift for drawing the reader into the motives and emotions of each character.
The Duke's Children is the last of the Palliser sequence, and probably the weakest as an actual novel. For those who have been following the adventures of Plantagenet Palliser, his family and friends from the very beginning, this final instalment immediately suffers a major blow with the premature death of Palliser's inimitable wife, Glencora, Duchess of Omnium. Over the course of a long and prolific career as a novelist, Trollope created many memorable characters, but the flighty Glencora is surely his masterpiece; so fully realised and full of life that it seems almost as incredible to the reader as to to her devastated widower, that she is dead. Always a distant, if worthy parent, Palliser suddenly finds himself like a ship without a rudder, and a virtual stranger to his three children. As his daughter and two sons enter adult life without their mother he finds himself totally ill-equipped to handle the social and emotional crises into which they precipitate him.
With Glencora gone, the burden of the plot falls mainly on her children who seem to resemble her more than their father. All of them, are shadows of their mother, and because there are three of them, the storyline sometimes lacks focus. The heir, Silverbridge, a rather limited but well-meaning young man, overly given to expensive and dubious exploits on the turf, appals his father (a former liberal prime minister) by deciding to enter politics on the Conservative side. His brother Gerald is an irresponsible university student. Their sister, Lady Mary, horrifies her father by engaging herself to a most unsuitable young ma. This makes her admittedly better than her brother, who manages to propose to two different girls at the same time, but her engagement becomes even most distressing to Palliser when he discovers that his late wife not only knew about, but encouraged the relationship. Unfortunately, none of the children are as entertaining as their late mother, and Silverbridge's bumbling forays into politics lack the incisive interest of his father's. This is not to say that The Duke's Children is a bad novel; on the contrary it is reasonably entertaining and anyone who has read the others will want to read this one. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to feel that Trollope was running out of steam when he wrote it.