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Introduction by Enoch Powell
631 pages 20 original illustrations by Sir John Millais
London, Virtue and Co., 1869. 2 vols.
Originally published in Saint Paul’s Magazine, October 1867 – May 1869.
Phineas Finn is a handsome, clever and ambitious young man, the only son of a capable but not over-endowed Irish country doctor. Through his father’s long friendship with one of his patients, Lord Tulla, he gets the offer of a pocket borough in Galway. His life is transformed. Not for him a slow decline in the Irish bogs, or a dreary slog as a barrister round the Irish circuits.
He is at once in London: and his charm and quick mind and his social success lead him from one good contact to another. But if his brain is cool and resourceful, his heart is ever susceptible. He has already left behind a secret fiancée in his home town. But almost immediately he is dallying with the rich and influential Lady Laura Standish. She falls in love with him: he fails for once to seize his chance, and she marries instead a rich, but unlikable landowner, Robert Kennedy – an arrangement which rapidly proves a disaster, since they are simply incompatible.
Yet, within weeks, the unperceptive Phineas is seeking her help in his courtship of another charming young heiress, Lady Violet Effingham. This affair is to lead him in the end to a duel with his friend, and Lady Laura’s brother, the wild Lord Chiltern. Unabashed, he next has a tilt at a widowed millionairess, Madame Max Goesler, who offers him her hand and her fortune. Agonizingly tempted, he refuses her, unable to break the secret promise he has never acknowledged.
By now a rising young politician (despite the complications of his love life) Phineas becomes a Junior Minister at The Treasury, only for his whole career to come to grief in the steamy morass of the Irish question, which brings down the government, and incidentally, abolishes his seat. ‘I cannot tell you how sad this makes me’, says Mr Monk, the retiring Prime Minister, ‘I try to shake off the melancholy’, replies Phineas ‘but it gets the better of me just at present’. In that depressed mood, he returns to Ireland, and his long abandoned Mary, who knows much of his political rise and fall, but, luckily, nothing of his erratic love life.