Miss MacKenzie is a spinster in her 30s and when her father died he split his money up between his sons, leaving his daughter Margaret to the tender mercies of her brothers’ charity. One brother has used his share of the loot in trade, he is a partner in sailcloth manufacture, very downmarket as far as Victorian society is concerned. The other brother is unmarried but after living in the fast lane for some years he has withdrawn from high society due to illness and it falls to his sister Margaret to nurse him, spending years looking after him and reading to him. When he eventually dies it’s discovered that he has left his fortune to Margaret and she decides to move out of his dreary house in London and takes herself off to Littlehampton to live. Margaret has been a great reader of novels and through her reading she knows that there’s a big exciting world out there and she’s keen to participate.
Her sailcloth manufacturing brother and his wife are incensed because Margaret has been left the money, they are always in need because they have a big family and the brother is useless at business. To placate them Margaret takes their eldest girl with her as a companion and promises to send her to school and fund her future. Luckily Margaret becomes very fond of Susanna who is very like her with the high cheekbones which they have both inherited from their Scottish forebears. Susanna’s siblings all say she is so ‘Scotchy’ and it is mentioned that they come from the ‘land of cakes’!!
When Margaret reaches Littlehampton she unfortunately becomes involved in the local strict – no fun allowed – church, which has a minister who is very much under his wife’s thumb, the precursor to Bishop and Mrs Goldie characters of the Barchester novels.
As an obviously well off woman it isn’t long before Margaret has attracted the attentions of men who are more interested in her money than anything else. I really liked the characters of Margaret and her niece. The subject of wills is one which seems to pop up quite often in Trollope’s books and Victorian fiction in general I think.
I’m working my way through Trollope and it’s going to take some time as they say! But this one is definitely worth reading if you like his work. One of the reasons I like his writing is that he was so obviously a man before his time and was on the side of the underdog, and that was definitely the plight of women in Victorian society, middle class women were in an even worse position than their supposedly poorer working-class sisters, who at least had the ability to work and so become independent of men, in theory anyway, as long as they didn’t marry a brute, bully or drunkard and have troops of kids. Thinking about it – nothing much has changed really!