This essay examines the pervasive language of chance in Anthony Trollope's Phineas Finn (1869) and argues that the novel's competing models of probability reveal tensions in the bildungsroman form. Although Phineas's advancement has been read as demonstrating Trollope's investment in the “career” as the form of individual development, the characterization of Phineas as an adventurer—and the depiction of romantic and political outcomes in London as stochastic—reveal a causal disjunction between individual choice and the mechanisms of social progress. Parliament is the setting of both Phineas's individual development and the plot of social progress, but the novel's use of competing languages and models of probability to describe the movement of the two reveals an incommensurability of scale. While Phineas's personal choices draw on a model of probability that manages chance by focusing on “odds” and rational decision making, his encounters with statistics in his parliamentary duties demonstrate how models of aggregation that mitigate chance and randomness cannot be reconciled with or incorporated into individual experience. Thus this essay argues that the novel's form, including its peculiar resolution, does not represent a reconciliation of Phineas's private and public identities but rather reflects a frustrated attempt to coordinate the progress of the individual with the progress of the nation.
Adam Grener; The Language of Chance and the Form of Phineas Finn. Genre 1 April 2017; 50 (1): 77–95. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-3761360
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