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Introduction by R C Terry
London, Chapman and Hall, 1879. 3v.
Originally published in Blackwoods Magazine, April 1878-June 1879.
John Caldigate, disinherited by his father after sowing a deal too many wild oats, sets sail for Australia to make his fortune in the goldfields of New South Wales. He meets the adventuress Euphemia Smith, widow of a drunken actor and herself a sometime music-hall entertainer, and the two conduct an indiscreet onboard romance. Surprisingly, Caldigate makes a success of his gold prospecting, and meets up again with Euphemia in Sydney; she sets up home with him posing as his wife, but inevitably the couple quarrel and separate.
Returning to England a rich man, Caldigate is reconciled with his father, and marries a previous love, the sweet-natured Hester Bolton: shortly afterwards the couple have a child. Euphemia, now styling herself Euphemia Caldigate, makes a timely re-emergence and attempts to blackmail her former lover by alleging – among other claims – that his marriage is bigamous and his child therefore illegitimate. The ensuing trial goes against Caldigate, and he finds himself in truly hot water for the first time. His innocence hangs upon the proof of a forged postmark, and here Trollope uses both his expert knowledge from his job at the Post Office and considerable ingenuity to resolve the story.
John Blackwood told Trollope he found the eponymous hero ‘too cold and complacent’ to command any sympathy, whilst complimenting other parts of the tale. In fact this is essential to Trollope’s purpose and by his deftness with the novel’s narrative technique in presenting us with such a character he virtually defies us to like him (he did something similar with the character of Harry in The Claverings). He throws his character into clear relief by the depiction of Euphemia Smith. She is one of the author’s most complex creations, and one of his cleverest ‘wicked women’. Her tactics are subtle, for she warns Caldigate against herself when they first meet: “Women are prehensile things which have to cling to something for nourishment and support. When I come across such a one as you I naturally put out my feelers”.
Using the Australian Goldrush of the 1870s as a backdrop, Trollope creates an intense, psychological feel to the novel. Also included is the marvellous portrait of Hester Bolton’s fanatically religious mother, ceaselessly quoting from the bible and so disapproving of her daughter’s marriage that she attends the ceremony clad in mourning