Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cousin Henry

Cousin Henry. Anthony Trollope. 1879. 336 pages.
“I have a conscience, my dear, on this matter,” said an old gentleman to a young lady, as the two were sitting in the breakfast parlour of a country house which looked down from the cliffs over the sea on the coast of Carmarthenshire.
“And so have I, Uncle Indefer; and as my conscience is backed by my inclination, whereas yours is not ­”
“You think that I shall give way?”
“I did not mean that.”
“What then?”
“If I could only make you understand how very strong is my inclination, or disinclination ­how impossible to be conquered, then ­”
“What next?”
I quite enjoyed Cousin Henry by Anthony Trollope. Perhaps the key to enjoying it is low expectations. In other words, if you don't expect Cousin Henry to be as wonderful and as monumental as Barchester Towers, Last Chronicle of Barset, The Way We Live Now, etc., then perhaps you can just enjoy it for what it is.

Cousin Henry is not an amazing, passionate love story. It is a story primarily about guilt, the weight and burden of not doing the right thing. He lives in fear of being found out, lives in fear of being judged guilty by others. He feels guilty, but these feelings of guilt and regret do not prompt him to do the right thing, to speak up, to tell the truth, to act honorably. He fears his peers and for good reason; he fears they are judging him, they are. He fears that he appears less than a man, appears cowardly; he does and everyone is talking about it. Cousin Henry reveals a tortured soul whom only the most tender-hearted can feel pity towards.

Uncle Indefer Jones is dying. While his heart is telling him to leave his estate to his niece Isabel Broderick, his mind is telling him that the "proper" thing to do is to leave his estate to his nephew Henry Jones. He considers for a very, very short amount of time asking his nephew and niece to marry so he can leave his property to both of them and bring his heart and mind into agreement. But the very things that make him a disagreeable choice for a husband, lead him to feel that he wouldn't be a good heir to the estate either. In other words, he understands exactly why Isabel finds him bad company and he quite agrees with her good taste. If it was up to him, he wouldn't want to spend any amount of time with his nephew. He lets his disgust be known to just about everybody including his nephew. So when in his last days--when Isabel just happens to be visiting her father--he makes a new will that changes everything, well, things get interesting....

...because the "new will" is not found. And every single person has an opinion on what happened to the will.

In a way, I could see why this one wouldn't naturally appeal to every single reader. How some could see this as a book just about some old guy dying and a bunch of people fighting over a will. But I see it as an intense study into the heart, mind, and soul of one individual, Cousin Henry, as he battles and struggles within himself. I see it as being about lies, deceptions, secrets, and betrayals. 

This wasn't only Cousin Henry's story, however, readers also get a chance to know Isabel Broderick, her would-be husband, William Owen, her father and stepmother, etc. And, of course, Uncle Indifer's lawyer, Mr. Apjohn.

Read Cousin Henry
  • If you're a fan of Anthony Trollope
  • If you're a fan of Victorian literature
  • If you're looking for a shorter introduction into the Victorian period
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Annette 9:09 AM  

Loved the review, esp. the comment on "low expectations." Sounds like rather an interesting title for a book?
I finished Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell last week, lovely book. I'm reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins about 100 pages into it. Also reading Oliver Twist by Dickens and am on page 127. Hoping to read another 100 pages from each book today!

hopeinbrazil 7:48 AM  

When I got done with this book I wasn't sure how to describe it. You did a masterful job!

Becky 2:39 PM  

Annette, I tend to think it wiser, perhaps, to start books with low expectations. It tends to stop me from getting disappointed and frustrated, and often leads to great surprises! I am so glad you finished Ruth. I definitely, definitely want to start/finish Ruth this year!!! I started it around Christmas time, I think, either this year or last year--isn't that horrible, I don't remember! Anyway, I got distracted and never finished it. I just LOVED The Woman in White!!!!

HopeinBrazil, thank you!!! Some books can be tricky to write about, I know. And sometimes it doesn't matter how simple or complex the plot is :)

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