Anthony Trollope's 'The Eustace Diamonds' - The Effects of Commodity Culture on Social Life and Marriage

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. The Mercenary Marriage

3. Women as Commodities
3.1 Lucy Morris
3.2 Lucinda Roanoke
3.3 Lizzie Eustace

4. Mercenary Marriage for Men
4.1 Frank Greystock
4.2 Lord Fawn

5. Society and Consumerism
5.1 Gift - Exchange

6. The Heirloom Question
6.1 Women as Paraphernalia and Heirlooms

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Anthony Trollope, together with his works, gives us a typical example of Victorian commodity culture which he himself recognised by comparing himself with shoemakers, carpenters and other production workers. He saw writing novels as satisfying the demands of the consumers (the readers of his novels) and generation of products (his books) for the market. After his death, Trollope’s autobiography was published, after which his reputation suffered a lot because people found out that he worked after a strict production schedule and, furthermore, he admitted that he wrote for money.[1] He also called the dislike of money false and misplaced. Other writers criticised his point of view because they claimed that a true writer should not be concerned with money. Trollope, however, maintained accounting books in which he noted the number of pages he wrote, how many pages he wrote per hour etc. He saw himself as a producer of “marketable commodities”[2] and a typical example of this is his novel The Eustace Diamonds, which is itself a satirical representation of the circulation of commodities. In the novel, the character of Lizzie Eustace, a young widow, refuses to return a precious diamond necklace given to her by her late husband to his family, who claims it is a family heirloom and, therefore, part of their property. She tries everything she can to keep the diamonds, from faking a theft of the diamonds to trying to persuade and even blackmail several men into marrying her and, thus, protecting her from the law. She even commits perjury after the real theft of the diamonds. What follows is an account of the legal debate about whether the necklace is an heirloom or paraphernalia and the social activity connected to the debate, which is stimulated by desires, intrigues and social exchange. And it is not only the necklace that is considered as part of the circulation of commodities in the novel, but the women who are eligible for marriage are also treated in the same way. Those are Lizzie, Lucy and Lucinda - their similar names already suggest that they represent three aspects of the same topic, which is the commodification of women in the marriage market.

In this paper I want to demonstrate the way in which The Eustace Diamonds represents the effects of commodity culture on social life and marriage in the Victorian era. In the first part of the paper I will highlight how marriage is presented as a part of commodity culture in the novel. I will then specify the role that women play on the marriage market and how Lizzie, Lucy and Lucinda represent the commodification of women on the latter. In addition, I want to take a closer look at the men’s role on the marriage market by analysing Frank’s and Lord Fawn’s attitude towards it. Finally, I will analyse the impact of consumerism on society and discuss why the heirloom question is important as part of the commodity culture.

2. The Mercenary Marriage

Trollope equates women to objects and represents marriage as a market where women are sold - or sell themselves - to the highest bidder. Additionally, marriage is represented as a complicated process of giving, sharing and possessing. For most of the nineteenth century women had no rights of ownership. Everything they possessed, money as well as property, belonged to their husbands. Consequently, a man who married a rich woman, married into money. That is why the economic factors of a marriage were of great significance to both, women and men. Such was the importance of wealth that, if a woman did not have much money to bring into the marriage she had to make up for this lack of material possession with status or beauty. Marriage and money were very closely interrelated and the question of money became even more important with the industrialisation of the country. The industrialisation freed up increasing amounts of money which in turn fed consumerism. Women as depicted in the novel circulated on the market in the same way as commodities, which implies that sexuality and capitalism in the Victorian era are seen as homologous social structures. The fact that married women could not earn money or possess property makes the association of women and commodities very clear. In a world organized by kinship and marriage they are a means of acquiring property and preserving the family line.

Lizzie, Lucy and Lucinda all imagine that a poor marriage would be romantic but they are quite aware of the fact that in reality a marriage is nearly always mercenary: Lizzie is always dreaming of a romantic corsair who will share everything with her but she is also quite willing to use her wealth if needed in an attempt to attract this corsair to marry her. Lucy hopes that Frank will marry her even though she is poor, but at the same time she realises the futility of this desire because she knows that for him, marrying her would ruin his career; she knows that he has to marry for money if he wants to get on in the world. Lastly, Lucinda states that she would be happy to marry a poor shoemaker if she would only get the chance to get to know one. Unfortunately the reality is different, the characteristic of English society in the nineteenth century is the marketing of its unmarried women, in The Eustace Diamonds as well as it was in real life. In the Victorian novel it is nearly impossible to get away from the concept of marriage as a financial transaction. Trollope, although describing this concept accurately, attacks it by showing how these basic assumptions about the union of men and woman work in reality. He criticises the Victorian marriage system by identifying the marriage act as a mercenary contract which often has nothing to do with love and affection: “As men, they have lacked a something, the want of which has made them small and poor and dry. It has never been felt by such a one that there would be triumph in giving away everything belonging to him for one little, whispered, yielding word, in which there should be acknowledgement that he had succeeded in making himself master of a human heart[3]

For women as well as for men marriage meant setting up a kind of establishment, and without money that was not possible. On the marriage market women were traded as commodities in order to exchange titles for wealth, accumulate land or even get a seat in Parliament. A whole family’s future could depend on the marriage choices of their daughter.

3. Women as Commodities

On the commodity market, the material wealth of women and the careful selection of a wife were increasingly seen as a vital means of exchanging commodities between families and establishing wealth. Furthermore, in producing an heir, the woman’s role was also to safeguard the continuation of the blood line and ownership of the property. With the flourishing commodity market in the nineteenth century, wealth was needed to take part in the exchange of commodities, so women also became a source of money because their property became that of their husbands’ with the marriage.[4] In The Eustace Diamonds, all three heroines have different fates in the marriage market. They are all part of it because of their individual circumstances and expectations in society, but none of them can escape it. They have to accept their status on the market or they run the risk of not accepted by society.

3.1 Lucy Morris

Lucy Morris is neither especially beautiful nor rich is aware that she is not an attractive commodity in the marriage market. However, she does want to be valued for what she is, and that is an honest and intelligent woman. Because of her circumstances, her fiancée, Frank Greystock, neglects her, ceases to communicate with her for several months and behaves very badly towards her. In spite of his rejection she still believes in him - and she knows she has to - because if she does not marry him, she has to remain a governess. The best option she has is to ignore what Frank has done to her and so she keeps telling herself that “there was no sin to be forgiven. Everything was, and had been, just as it ought to be.” [5] She also tells the Fawns that Frank’s family has forgiven her for not being rich or beautiful, and that he has accepted her as his bride.[6] Lucy is presented as the novel’s moral heroine and is often referred to as being “good as gold’[7] and a real “treasure”.[8] She represents truth and depth and she does not avail herself to the market for sale in the same way as Lizzie, but gives herself as a “gift” to Frank. She does not become subject to the changes in the market by participating in the same mode of commodity exchange but provides an alternative to that model. However, by giving herself as a gift to Frank, she is still represented as part of the commodity culture. In the novel, metaphors of gift, theft, property, real and fake jewels are used in order to represent honest women and deceitful women. They obtain a similar position as paraphernalia and heirlooms.[9] Bad women occupy the “zone of circulation”, whereas good women remain in the “zone of possession”.[10] According to this pattern, Lucy would be a possessed heirloom because she resists her feelings of doubts and upholds her love for Frank. Her love is so to say “maintained in its original form”, like an heirloom, whereas Lizzie’s affections are “not only alterable, but constantly altered”, in the same way as circulated paraphernalia. Lucy’s status as an heirloom is also metaphorized by the ring she gives Frank as a present: The ring had been given to him by Lucy, after their engagement, and was the only present she had ever made him. It had been purchased out of her own earnings, and had been put on his finger by her own hand. [...] “What’s the price?” she asked. “It’s not in the market, Lizzie.” [11] The ring does not have much material value but is a symbol of affection and therefore cannot be bought on the market.

3.2 Lucinda Roanoke

As for Lucinda, she does not really have any choice, she is confronted with the option of seeking financial security through the marriage with Sir Griffin Tewett, which was arranged by her aunt, or she has to face being consigned to bankruptcy and spinsterhood. She absolutely despises Sir Griffin and after he kisses her she says of him: “Never before had she been thus polluted. The embrace had disgusted her.”[12] At first she thinks that it is only him that she does not like but later she claims “for the sake of this man who was to be her husband, she hated all man.”[13] So her role is different from that of Lucy and Lizzie in so much that she is rejecting the world of commodities and gift-exchange altogether and refuses to be part of this system. Being forced into marriage and the attempts to sell her on the market nearly destroy her and drive her to distraction. Breaking out of this framework is the only way for her to keep her sanity. So, on the very day of her wedding she breaks off the engagement to Sir Griffin. Afterwards, she leaves London with her aunt and they are said to have gone overseas, leaving a lot of debts behind. However, it is not only the debts that force them to leave, but also the public scandal Lucinda provoked by the refusal to abide to the rules of the marriage market.

3.3 Lizzie Eustace

As I have pointed out earlier, Lucy is presented as untradable property whereas Lizzie cannot be held permanently and will always circulate on the market. She is associated with being rather “paste” than “real stone”[14] and when she tries to persuade Frank to marry her, she is described as using her beauty intentionally and falsely selling herself for a value she does not have because the diamonds are not her own. The fact that she is not only a passive commodity on the market but also acting out her value is commented with:

[...] the thing so offered becomes absolutely valueless by the offer, - that the woman who can make it has put herself out of court by her own abandonment of the privileges due to her as a woman, - that stern rebuke and even expressed contempt are justified by such conduct, - and that the fairest beauty and most alluring charms of feminine grace should lose their attraction when this tendered openly in the market.[15]

Offering herself so openly on the market nearly gives her a connotation of being like a prostitute, but the purpose of Lizzie seeking for a husband is also being an attempt to be protected against the laws which threaten her. When she’s trying to entrap Lord George into marriage she thinks: “If he would only tell her that he loved her, then he would be bound to her, - than he must share with her the burthen of the diamonds - then he must be true to her”[16] So on the one hand she uses the diamonds as an instrument of power to make her attractive for possible suitors, on the other hand, they are a burden for her because she cannot feel safe having them without the security of the marriage contract. It is strange that Lizzie, although she has already gone through a commercial marriage and is therefore wealthy enough to be able to afford a marriage for love, still chooses a commercial marriage. It seems that the mercenary marriage is so fixed into the understanding of society that a marriage for love does not even occur to her. In the end, when all of Lizzie’s suitors have abandoned her - partly because of her lies and unscrupulous behaviour, partly because of her bankruptcy after the necklace had really been stolen - she has no choice but to marry Mr. Emilius, a dishonest and repulsive man. He himself well knows that due to the loss of the diamonds and the loss of her good reputation Lizzie’s market value has suffered immensely, but he is content with what he gets anyway:

When rumours reached him prejudicial to Lizzie in respect of the diamonds, he perceived that such prejudice might work weal for him. A gentleman once, on ordering a mackerel for dinner, was told that a fresh mackerel would come to a shilling. He could have a stale mackerel for sixpence. “Then bring me a stale mackerel ”, said the gentleman. Mr. Emilius coveted fish, but was aware that this position did not justify him in expecting the best fish on the market.”[17]


[1] Cf.

[2] TROLLOPE, A. An Autobiography. Oxford University Press, 1950: 109

[3] TROLLOPE, A. The Eustace Diamonds. Oxford University Press, 1998. 1:120

[4] cf. Delany, P. Literature, Market and the Market. Basingstoke 2002: 32

[5] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:349

[6] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:350

[7] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 1:271

[8] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 1:23

[9] cf. chapter 6

[10] cf. PSOMIADES, K. A. “Heterosexual Exchange and other Victorian Fictions: The Eustace Diamonds and Victorian Anthropology”. Novel (1999), 93-118: 96

[11] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 1:283

[12] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:24

[13] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:24

[14] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:230

[15] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:126

[16] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:104

[17] TROLLOPE. The Eustace Diamonds. 2:239-40

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Anthony Trollope's 'The Eustace Diamonds' - The Effects of Commodity Culture on Social Life and Marriage
Free University of Berlin  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
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Victorianism, Victorian Culture, Victorian Literature
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Kristina Richter (Author), 2005, Anthony Trollope's 'The Eustace Diamonds' - The Effects of Commodity Culture on Social Life and Marriage, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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