The Belton Estate was first published in serial form in 1865 and for some reason seems to have been quite neglected over the years. I have to say that I really enjoyed it and it was a very quick read for me.
It’s another story featuring that dastardly thing – an entailed estate. Belton Estate is owned by Mr Amedroz, a widower with a grown up son and daughter, so the entailment shouldn’t be a problem. However, the son Charles has been indulged and spoiled by his father and after spending all of his father’s money and leaving nothing for his sister Clara’s future – and being the selfish, self pitying swine that he is, he commits suicide.
Clara is now in dire straits with no money and an ailing elderly father. When her father dies she’ll be penniless and homeless as the estate passes on to a distant cousin Will Belton. Clara fancies herself to be in love with Captain Frederic Aylmer who is a relative by marriage and a Member of Parliament (usually a bad sign), so when Will Belton, an honest, shy and gentle chap falls in love with Clara she turns his offer of marriage down. Silly Clara, but it had to be done, for the sake of the book.
Clara’s father is sure that the wealthy Mrs Winterfield who is Clara’s aunt by marriage will provide for Clara in her will and so thinks that he has nothing to worry about but Clara knows that her aunt is going to leave her estate and money to Captain Aylmer.
Eventually Captain Aylmer proposes marriage to Clara and she accepts but it isn’t long before she is comparing him with Will Belton and as Frederic is a cold man who never seems to be able to behave the way a fiance should to her, things begin to cool.
When Clara’s father dies she goes to stay with her prospective in-laws, whom she hasn’t met before and it’s obvious that Frederic’s mother and sister are dead against him marrying Clara.
That’s as far as I’m going with the story, because I don’t want to spoil it for people who might want to read it. Previously I’ve read The Barchester Chronicles, and I loved those books, so funny. Trollope must have known a fair amount of ghastly women in his time because he writes them so well. Mrs Proudie, the bishop’s wife, is wonderful in her awfulness.
But what struck me about The Belton Estate is that my copy had originally belonged to my mother-in-law. We inherited it along with a bookcase full of books so I’m fairly sure that she read it. We’ve been married for over 34 years and it’s taken me till now to discover who my mother-in-law took as her role model. It was the tyrranical Lady Aylmer of course, Frederic’s mother!
Charles Dickens often wrote about the conditions that poor people had to suffer, because he had been there himself and presumably hoped that he could help by writing about the inequality of life. Trollope, who was of a different class seems to have been trying to do much the same thing for the women of his own class who were put in a difficult position by entails. He’s also very sympathetic to women who were often harshly judged for what would be seen as a small misdemeanour if committed by a man. It seems to have taken another 20 years for entails to be abolished, by the Reform Bill of 1885.
Anyway, I recommend The Belton Estate as a good read, especially if you’re a bit wary of Anthony Trollope’s work.