Much against his will, the Duke of Omnium consents to lead a coalition government. The Duchess quickly becomes a social figure of great power striving to consolidate his support. Together they make their way to the centre of society and, like Phineas Finn before them, they find it hollow. The novel is haunted by the mysterious Ferdinand Lopez whose pernicious influence the Duke and Duchess cannot escape. Though their relationship is far from perfect, their love for one another is as convincingly and movingly portrayed as any in English fiction. The Prime Minister (1876), described by Tolstoy as a 'beautiful book', is the fifth of the six Palliser novels (1864-80). Together they provide an exceptionally rich and telling expose of the British way of life during the period of its greatest prestige.
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