Combined, PHINEAS FINN and PHINEAS REDUX constitute one of the great yarns in Anthony Trollope's large catalog of novels. As art, they are not masterpieces and do not quite match up against his very best books, but as entertainment, they are unsurpassed. Together, they are easily as enjoyable as any that Trollope wrote. All of the major characters of the former novel are back with a vengeance, and a far more satisfying end to the Phineas Finn saga is provided than that provided by the first novel.
By all estimations, PHINEAS FINN, while a thoroughly enjoyable novel, ended badly. So badly, that Trollope felt compelled essentially to delete the ending of the former novel, and provide a new ending in the form of a novel to correct the error of his ways. In his AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Trollope expresses his extreme dissatisfaction with the ending of that novel. Happily, he more than atones for his literary sins with the sequel.
This novel, like its predecessor, is set against the background of a great political reform. In the former, it was suffrage (i.e., how many people would be given the right to vote), in this one, the disestablishment of the Church of England (i.e., breaking the tie of mandatory local taxes to support the Anglican Church). Perhaps for this reason, Phineas Finn's Catholicism, which was not alluded to in the former novel, is made much of. The same cast of parliamentary characters are brought back for this new controversy. One curiosity is that sometimes Trollope refers by name to the achievements of members of parliament such as Gladstone, Disraeli, or John Bright. What is odd about this is the fact that Gresham is pretty transparently based on Gladstone, Daubeny on Disraeli, and Trumbull on John Bright.
Far more than the Barsetshire novels, a large number of increasingly familiar characters flit in and out of the various political novels. The major characters of one novels are found as minor characters in another. As one works through the novels in the political series, one sees such characters as Glencora Palliser, Joshua Monk, Mr. Rattler, Lord Fawn, Lord and Lady Cantrip, Lizzie Eustace, and a myriad of other characters. One of my favorite Trollope characters is prominent in PHINEAS REDUX, Madame Max Goesler. Dark in her features, thin, beautiful, extremely wealthy, widowed, extremely self-possessed, sharply intelligent, efficient, and very much a woman of action, she seems very much to be a woman before her time. One of the most remarkable things about Trollope, who was in many ways the epitome of the Victorian world, was his obvious love for strong, intelligent, exceptional women. Although there are many such women in Trollope's novels, Madame Goesler is easily the one I find most compelling.