A Victorian imagining of a former British colony in 1980, this story is about the social and political implications of a mandatory euthanasia law for elderly citizens. This might be one of the rare Victorian science-fiction/dystopian novels. Set in the "future" (1980), it centers on a British colony island off the coast of New Zealand called Britannula, which is granted its independence some decades ago. (Little did Trollope know how accurate this particular prediction was, as mid-20th century was when a lot of Britain's colonial possessions started cutting loose).
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The story is narrated by Neverbend, the President of Britannula. Britannula is a republic with an unusual law. At the age of 67, all citizens must retire from the workforce and spend a year setting their wills and spending time with their families. And when they turn 68, they are euthanized. The rationale for this is to spare them unnecessary pain and also reduce the spending burden on the state.
Two old men, Neverbend and Crasweller, built the republic together and have been friends ever since, with Neverbend now the President of Britannula. But the day of their mandatory retirement and euthanasia is fast approaching and they find their views changing, especially as they see no sign of slowing of their own vigor and mental faculties. Neverbend inwardly questions the wisdom of this law, but it's a couple years away yet for him, and he sees himself duty-bound to abide by it, uphold it and enforce it. Meanwhile, Crasweller gets cold feet, and tries to find ways to back out of it, going to so far as to try to falsify his birth certificate. Crasweller is not alone, either. Men who wrote the laws of the republic, who grew up in this founding father generation, are now changing their minds. Some of them are building a lobby to change the law. Some of them are giving up Britannula citizenship and fleeing to other countries. Some are producing medical records to show that they are still fit to work. Neverbend realizes that he has a crisis on his hands. He decides to make an example of his old friend Crasweller and calmly, logically argues with Crasweller that the law has merits for the society and the state, and that a gentleman cannot back down from his principles. Honor-bound, Crasweller feels he cannot oppose further and still die a gentleman, and agrees to the euthanasia.
However, the rebellious efforts of the other citizens have paid off, and on the day of Crasweller's execution, the British armed forces capture Britannula, claim it for Britain, and depose Neverbend. The fixed period and euthanasia law is repealed. A shocked and disgusted Neverbend is sent back to England as a well-treated prisoner, and he refuses to admit or consider that he may have been in the wrong.
Best part of story, including ending:
As a future-looking novel, it's interesting to see how Trollope imagines the late twentieth century. The only thing he got right was the idea that a colony might be independent.
Best scene in story:
When Crasweller and Neverbend are arguing, they go off on a tangent and start nostalgically looking back on their early days as young political revolutionaries, which was kind of sad but also weirdly accurate since a lot of real-life former colonials in their 60s were probably doing that in 1980.
Opinion about the main character:
Neverbend was never very well developed, and I wish I had seen a lot more insight into his life, backstory and everything that would have molded his views.