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Two stories of romance that truly satisfy the heart and challenge prejudices display Trollope’s great character development. Interpersonal family relationships are examined with a reality and tenderness that rings true.
Simon Vance narrates the final novel in the Palliser series with his usual grace and precision. The story itself is not a complex one: two couples are in love but mismatched socially (a common Trollope device); obstacles arise and then by one means or another they fade away.
It's in Trollope's characters that the chief pleasure lies — that, and his insistence on addressing his readers directly, an entertaining approach that used to drive my old Victorian novel teacher batty. And it's in Trollope's characters that Vance's skill at narration manifests itself. I'm particularly fond of his characterization of Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of the title; and of Isabel Boncassen, a young American woman who possesses great wealth and no social standing. Trollope'a women are often highly intelligent and are aware of the constraints they're forced to live under in a male-dominated society.
Trollope's world, stretching across dozens of novels, is not one where nothing bad ever happens. People die in all sorts of ways — apoplexy, alcoholism, suicide by poison, blowing one's brains out (the sight of which leaves another man broken for the rest of his days). Love is not always requited: people are sometimes forced to live out their lives in lonely solitude. People are disgraced, people lose all their money, people go mad.
But somehow the tone remains always genial, compassionate, and touched with humor. And Simon Vance'a narration is a perfect fit. This is a strong and satisfying conclusion to the Palliser series.