Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cousin Henry's will

Cousin Henry, Anthony Trollope

This shorter novel (shorter for Trollope anyway at only 280 pages) centers on a will.  It is a psychological study of the title character, Henry Jones, the nephew and male heir of his uncle Indefer, who has no children of his own. There is another heir, however, his cousin Isabel Broderick, who has lived with their uncle since her mother's death and her father's remarriage.  Uncle Indefer is torn between love and duty.  Out of love for Isabel, he wishes to make her the heir of his estate, Llanfeare in South Wales, but he believes it his duty to leave it to his nephew, the male heir.  This conflict has led him in the past to make different wills, some according to love and others according to duty.  After his death, the last will discovered names Henry the heir.  But the day before Uncle Indefer died, he summoned two tenants to witness yet another will.  Isabel believes that will made her the heir.  Almost immediately, Henry falls under general suspicion of having destroyed that last will.  He has not done so, but he knows where his uncle put it and where it remains concealed.  As the weeks pass, he is paralyzed with fear and guilt, at times planning to destroy it, at times wishing for its discovery.  A local newspaper picks up the story and torments Henry with accusations of theft and fraud.  Most of the story focuses on Henry's paralysis, his lack of will, his inablility either to destroy or reveal the document, even to end his own torment.

Isabel, meanwhile, has returned to her father's house, where her vulgar stepmother complains constantly that she is a drain on her father's resources, already stretched by his second family.  I was reminded of Mary Masters in The American Senator, also afflicted with a wicked stepmother.  I also thought of Trollope's own niece, Beatrice ("Bice"), who found life with her own stepmother difficult and who spent a good deal of time with her uncle and aunt.

Though this story is concerned, like others of Trollope's, with inheritance, it is unusual in its focus on Henry, and its psychological insights are astute.  But it is very much a typical Trollope novel in the richness of its characters, including the lawyer Nicholas Apjohn, who solves the puzzle of the missing will and brings the story to a triumphant conclusion.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!