I have just finished The Prime Minister, the fifth of Trollope’s six Palliser novels or sequence (I have been struggling to catch up with the Trollope-l reading schedule and am now within a few weeks of doing so!). Without going into any lengthy analysis of this great book I did want to just add a short comment on the magnificent chapter, entitled as above, in which Ferdinand Lopez, the book’s villain, commits suicide. Tenway Junction was in fact, the notes to the edition I read inform me, Willesden Junction, opened in 1866 (The Prime Minister was published in 1876) at the junction of several local lines and the two main lines from Euston to the North.
Trollope’s prose here, which can be, enjoyably, verbose is here stripped right back; his account is one in which acutely observed detail steadily mounts. The chapter is the very opposite of melodrama (whatever that may be). Ferdinand Lopez takes a bus, then the underground to Euston. He visits the station cafe, flirts with the waitress and has a mutton chop. He then takes a first-class return for Tenway Junction. Trollope describes the immense confusion which reigns there as a mass of passengers change trains. Lopez walks back and forth along a platform but even amidst the throng a vigilant railway ‘pundit’ grows suspicious and questions him. Lopez asserts that he is waiting for a train from Liverpool with a friend on it. He eventually eludes his shadow and as the morning express from Euston approaches at ‘a thousand miles an hour’ Lopez ‘With quick, but still gentle and apparently unhurried steps,..walked down before the flying engine – and in a moment had been knocked into bloody atoms’. The rhythms of the entire chapter are exemplified in this final passage, the quiet prosaic nature of the description shattered by that last final phrase have an immense power. They are also of course extremely bleak. This is one of the great accounts of suicide which draws much of its strength by avoiding any interiority at all. Convincing interiority is almost impossible when writing such accounts for the banal and obvious reason that the successful suicide carries no tales (I can speak as an unsuccessful one but clearly would not be writing today had I succeeded!). Trollope has described Lopez’s thought processes which led him tothis point earlier on, but of the day and event itself he takes the utterly correct decision to stand back and observe in a minute and almost dispassionate manner.
To anyone who believes or asserts that Trollope is a comfortable, easy writer the three words The Tenway Junction should alone function as a total rebuttal. Of course those who have seriously read him will know these assertions to be untrue. But this is a short distillation of just how bleak, and powerfully bleak, he can be. It is worth adding as a final note that the ‘bloody atoms’ are also a reference back to Epicurean theory which earlier in the book has been adduced as an explanation of the way in which complete idiots rise to the top in political life.