Eustace Diamonds, The
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Introduction by P. D. James
London, Chapman and Hall, 1873. 3 vols.
Originally published in The Fortnightly Review, July 1872 – Feb. 1, 1873.
“I have long known, Mr Trollope, your churchmen and churchwomen. May I congratulate you on the same happy lightness of touch in the portrait of your new adventuress? said Disraeli (not a great reader of other men’s novels), on meeting Trollope at Lord Stanhope’s dinner table.
The sparkling book referred to earned the author an advance of £1,250. The publisher had a bargain. It secured for him one of the most entertaining, worthless, attractive women in the history of the novel: the totally amoral Lizzie Eustace. With her came one of Trollope’s best plots: and some of his most devastatingly ironic portraits. For instance, Lord Fawn: the impoverished politician with an impregnable estimate of his own (and his dreadful family’s) worth: but with none of the resources of wit or wealth to back it – truly a Wet before his time.
Trollope’s ingenious story revolves around the immensely valuable and spectacular necklace Lizzie inherited from the rich, ailing baronet she married for his money, and quickly killed with her indifference. Entailed to her son and heir, she appropriates it as her own, with a view to pawning it or selling it as fast as she can. Only the energetic, persistent, and resolute efforts of the Eustace family’s solicitor stand between her and success.
Totally unscrupulous, she is at the same time casting around to entrap another husband to keep her in the style to which so rapidly she has become accustomed. Indeed, she pursues several simultaneously, scattering promises like confetti, with a flash of “her eyes, in which she herself thought the lustre of her beauty lay”, as Trollope tells us, and which were “blue and clear, bright as cerulean waters.” It is a lucky reader who comes fresh to this compelling tour-de-force.