Anthony Trollope's The Prime Minister.
Finally getting around to reading this book -- the 5th of the 6 Palliser novels (and one praised by Tolstoy) -- which parallels our hero, the now-older Duke of Omnium and his final political challenge as the liberal head of a coalition government, with the marital fate of an earnest girl of good family named Emily Wharton.
It is the middle-late 19th century in England.
Will England's greatness be advanced? Will the coalition government be a good suitor to Albion? Will the Duke's warm and ambitious wife's social excesses on his behalf help or hurt him? She is political and he is scrupulous.
And in the other story: Will young, noble Emily Wharton marry a stranger and foreigner who is involved in shady dealings, against the wishes of her father, who is wise and loving, but whose arguments against the man are marred by blind prejudice? Will she be led by her vulgar aunt or her beloved family friends?
All of this marked by Trollope's shrewd and sometimes-funny commentary on human public and private behavior in the House and in the house. Trollope was a dissector of human foibles and greatness, though with a light touch, and his characters can be more complex and less tragic than some Victorian writers'. His heroes have imperfections and his villains sometimes have something to admire, but it is always clear who and what is right.
[Addenda 9/14/15: Finished. Oh, the noble example of the tragic loyalty of Emily Wharton Lopez! The author lost control of his secondary story line and it becomes the meat of the book in theme and pathos if not word count.]
The question the book addresses is: What is a true gentleman and Englishman like?
Some quotes from the first quarter of the book:
"The man, certainly, was one strangely endowed with the power of creating a belief."'
"Though the thing had been long a-doing, still it had come suddenly."
"And it was not the way with her Grace to hide such sorrows in the depth of her bosom."
"I remember dear old Lord Brock telling me how much more difficult it was to find a good coachman than a good Secretary of State."
"It'll be best in the long run." "I'm sometimes happy when I think I shan't live to see the long run.'"
"She knew him to be full of scruples....unwilling to domineer when men might be brought to subjection only by domination."
On political alliances: "I don't want a man to stick to me. I want a man to stick to his country."
On young, rich men with political ambitions: "He had the great question of labor, and all that refers to unions, strikes, and lock-outs, quite at his fingers' ends. He knew how the Church of England should be disestablished and recomposed. He was quite clear on questions of finance, and saw to a 't' how progress should be made towards communism, so that no violence should disturb that progress, and that in due course of centuries all desire for personal property should be conquered and annihilated by a philanthropy so general as hardly to be accounted a virtue. In the meantime, he could never contrive to pay his tailor's bill regularly out of the allowance of 400 pounds a year which his father made him, and was always dreaming of the comforts of a handsome income."
"There is such a thing as a conscience with too fine an edge that it will allow a man to do nothing."