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Cousin Henry (1879)

por Anthony Trollope

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310864,872 (3.65)11
Cousin Henry, first published in 1879, is perhaps the most unusual and intriguing of Trollope's shorter novels. Trollope's masterly handling of the novel's unlikely hero, a tiresome and timid coward, is notable for its insight and compassion.
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The Ten Commandments are written in stone and governmental laws are codified on paper, but many of those personal moral positions we take are more like lines in the sand, both arbitrary and temporary. For example, because of some slight, real or imagined, Person A refuses to speak to Person B, to which Person B reacts by refusing to speak to Person A. Both of them convince themselves they have taken a high moral stand.

Anthony Trollope explores this idea in his 1879 novel "Cousin Henry" about an elderly squire with no offspring to inherit his estate, Llanfeare. His choice for an heir comes down to a beloved niece, Isabel, who has lived with him and cared for him and whom all the servants adore, and a despised nephew, Henry, a clerk in London. His heart tells him to leave Llanfeare to Isabel, but his own line in the sand tells him he must have a male heir. And so he invites Henry to visit him, telling him the estate will soon be his. Yet the more he sees of Henry, the more he dislikes him, and so before he dies he changes his will without the benefit of his attorney. Although there are witnesses to the signing of the will, it cannot be found later.

Isabel tells herself and everyone else she has no objection if Henry gets the estate, but she decides that if she does not inherit it, she cannot marry Mr. Owen, the man she loves. Owen, meanwhile, draws his own line in the sand, saying he cannot marry Isabel if she does inherit Llanfeare.

As for Henry, he inherits the property on the basis of the existing will, then spots the missing will in a book of sermons the squire had been reading just before his death. He reasons, conveniently, that since he did not hide the will nor destroy it, he owns the high moral ground. He found it without looking for it, so let someone else find it if they want it.

The novel's hero, the only main character with a straight moral compass, is Mr. Apjohn, the attorney first for the squire and then for Cousin Henry. He behaves honorably toward everyone, but especially toward what is legal and honorable. And it is he who finally deduces where the missing will is to be found.

What makes this novel more interesting, at least to me, is that Trollope is never clear about why Henry is disliked by everyone, except perhaps his London employer, who keeps his job open for him during his long stay at Llanfeare. True, Henry proves far from honorable after he discovers the missing will, but he is despised long before that. Mostly, it seems, people dislike him because he is an unattractive introvert, not for anything he has actually done.

"He has been hardly used," Mr. Upjohn says of Henry late in the novel, and that is certainly true. His uncle invites him to Llanfare, telling him the estate will soon be his, then changes his mind. After Henry asks Isabel to marry him, arguing that this way both of them can inherit the property, she responds by telling him how much she hates him, when a simple no-thank-you would have sufficed.

Trollope shows us that when we draw lines in the sand, we often place ourselves anywhere but on high moral ground. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jul 24, 2017 |
Je ne sais comment je suis tombée sur ce livre, enfin si, je le sais, c’est un de ces auteurs anglais dont je n’avais jamais entendu parlé et que j’ai vu surgir à tous bouts de champs dans les listes des lecteurs que je fréquente en secret sur ce site et ailleurs. Un peu comme pour Nathaniel Hawthorne, dont je parlais il y a peu… Et puis le Cousin Henry est disponible sur les sites de livres électroniques gratuits, qui ont alimenté beaucoup de mes lectures dernièrement, alors j’ai fini par sauter le pas…
Autant Nathaniel Hawthorne a été une découverte heureuse autant ici, bien que le procédé soit le même, le résultat ne l’est pas. J’ai trouvé cette histoire plutôt poussive. Les dilemmes moraux me plaisent en général, mais là, les questions d’héritage de l’oncle Indefer sont un bien piètre prétexte pour cette histoire. Et puis bon, d’accord, le cousin Henry hésite, et on sait dès le début comment ça finira, donc toutes ces tergiversations qui vont, qui viennent, qui revont, qui reviennent, c’est un peu lassant. Je comprends qu’elles sont à l’image de ce héros indécis et sans caractère, mais l’écriture finit aussi par en manquer, de caractère, et là je suis moins indulgente.
Une première rencontre ratée avec Monsieur Trollope donc, je ne sais encore si l’on m’y reprendra. Peut-être, peut-être pas, j’hésite…
  raton-liseur | Jun 21, 2017 |
A moral dilemma which would have been more compelling if the characters had been more likable. ( )
  snash | Nov 6, 2015 |
Henry is summoned by his uncle Indefer, who is determined to leave his estate to Henry since he is a man, rather than to Henry's cousin Isabel, who has been brought up to believe she would be the heiress. Isabel goes to visit her father and while she is away the squire changes his mind again and makes a new will in her favour. He then dies, but no one can find the most recent will, even though two workers on the estate are ready to swear they witnessed it. We know, but no one else does, that Henry found the will lying in a book of sermons, closed up the book and put it back on the bookroom shelf. He spends the rest of the novel agonizing over whether to come clean and becomes increasingly unpopular with all around.

This is pretty short as Trollope novels go and fairly satisfying, although Isabel is hard to warm to and I found her treatment of her lover Owen to be a bit cold. Also, why is she willing to marry him at the end once she is restored to her inheritance? I appreciate that he has been faithful and willing to marry her without a penny, but in that case, why was he so objectionable at the very beginning, but not now? I also struggled a bit with why everyone hated poor Henry as soon as he turned up in Wales. Isabel detests him when he seems to have done nothing wrong at all - I appreciate she doesn't want to marry him, but why is he so hated by her and by his uncle on sight? ( )
  pgchuis | Sep 6, 2015 |
This was my first reading of Trollope and I found his work very intriguing. The author was certainly aware of the anguish of guilt as he led us painfully through the experience of Cousin Henry in being the only one who knows the location of the last will of the old Squire--a will that would disinherit him of a large estate. As he agonizes over whether or not to reveal this information, we go through the twisting and turning of his reasoning, his rationalizations, his self-righteousness, his self pity, his lack of sleep and lack of appetite and finally his terror before man and God. We witness his great relief of leaving what he once held so dear and see the appetite restored and a happiness in returning to a once despised job with an unburdened conscience. There is also a very interesting look into the convoluted reasoning of the Squire's niece, the heiress in the last will. She and the man she loves are people of unusual honor who almost lose the hope of marriage by stubbornly sticking to questionable principles. An interior examination of cowardice and deceit that can still resonate in some small corner of each of our minds. ( )
  seoulful | Feb 1, 2012 |
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'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.
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Cousin Henry, first published in 1879, is perhaps the most unusual and intriguing of Trollope's shorter novels. Trollope's masterly handling of the novel's unlikely hero, a tiresome and timid coward, is notable for its insight and compassion.

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