The Duke's Children was the last of the great Palliser novels of Anthony Trollope - Can You Forgive Her (1864), Phineas Finn (1869) , The Eustace Diamonds (1873), Phineas Redux (1874), The Prime Minister (1876), and, as mentioned, The Duke's Children (1879). Trollope hoped that his public would read all six novels, although he doubted this was likely to happen given the many years separating the first novel of the series and the last.
I have read all six novels in order and recommend them highly. The Duke's Children is one of my favorites for several reasons. First, it has the least amount of Parliamentary baggage attached to it, unlike several other Palliser novels. Lord Silverbridge, the Duke's first son, is elected to Parliament, but spends little time and energy on this business. Instead he first falls in love with Lady Mabel Grex, the Duke's choice for his bride, and then a beautiful American girl, Isabel Boncassen. Lady Mabel is an extraordinary woman; Trollope gives her some of the greatest love scenes in Victorian literature. In the Palliser series of novels, he never wrote better or more convincingly than in describing Lady Mabel's conversations with Lord Silverbridge, or her first love, Frank Tregear.
Tregear and Lady Mabel decide to separate; Tregear then forms an alliance and later proposes to Lady Mary Palliser, the Duke's daughter. The Duke immediately rejects Tregear, a commoner, and the resolution of this romance forms an ongoing and important part of the novel. The Duke enlists the help of family and friends, but in the end, as the reader suspects from the beginning, the iron will of Lady Mary prevails.
Trollope loves his Duke, who is the one constant in all six novels. He is a nobleman in every sense of the word and recognized as such by all who meet him. In this last novel, his patience is sorely tried by his three children - the last, Gerald, is not much involved in the story, but when he is it is usually unpleasant for the Duke. For the first time in the six novels, we meet the Duke not primarily in Parliament, where he would prefer to be, but at home with his children; he is not altogether comfortable in this setting, but appears to soften toward his family as the novel and series finally come to an end.
Anthony Trollope is, in my opinion, the finest English novelist of manners. Few can match him when it comes to creating a world that comes alive and becomes as real for the reader as life itself. He is so skillful a writer that we feel included in the story he has created for us. When we put down his book at the end of an evening's reading, we take some of our involvement with the plot with us to think about in our own life; we are much the better for our association with Trollope. When the series concludes with the Duke finally at peace with his children, we experience a sense of satisfaction seldom experienced in reading great literature. The Duke's Children may be read as the first introduction to Anthony Trollope, but I recommend taking Trollope's advice and reading all the Palliser series of novels in order for one of the greatest and most lasting experiences found in literature.