Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)
George Bertram, Arthur Wilkinson, and Adela Gauntlet grew up together at Hurst Staple, a small community near the Hampshire border in England. Adela was an orphan who lived with her aunt; Arthur's father, a pastor, died early, leaving the manse to his wife, and George lived with his uncle, old George, who had made a fortune in the financial abattoirs of London. As the three grew up, young George and Arthur remained friends even when they went to Oxford while Adela lived a more or less solitary existence with her aunt. She had feelings for Arthur, but the two hadn't at this point become more than neighbors. When the boys graduated from college, George received a double first degree, one of the highest levels of achievement offered, while Arthur only got a second, even though he had studied much harder than his friend. So Arthur decided to accept the parsonage at Hurst Staple, while George anticipated a blazing career in the high society of the City. Arthur gradually came to terms with his disappointment and made plans to marry Adela, but since his mother received most of his income, he felt unable to propose, not having the wherewithal to support a wife.
George waffled around for a while, toying with authorship and having a good time. His uncle wanted him to study law, but George wouldn't commit to that. In order to give his nephew a broader experience of the scope and vicissitudes of life, he persuaded him to embark upon a tour to the Middle East. George joined a group of tourists that visited Jerusalem, where he became acquainted with Caroline Waddington, an English orphan accompanying her aunt. George falls for Caroline and has an epiphantic experience on the Mount of Olives, where he imagined himself walking in the footsteps of Jesus. But it doesn't last very long, and when he met his father Lionel, he allowed himself to be swept away to the alluring attractions of Constantinople. Lionel Bertram was in the military. His job involved traveling to foreign capitals to adjust minor difficulties arising with the locals over British policies. George soon discovered that his father's real activities were feral, in a financial sense: he was a spendthrift and a scavenger after all the money he could get his hands on, regardless of the source. Disillusioned, George returned to London.
Time passes; George the younger continues undecided; he tries being an attorney and is unsuccessful, so he writes a short book which achieves a minor bump in the literary market. He continually sees Caroline, but she is getting tired of his indecisiveness. When she meets an old school friend of George's, Henry Harcourt, she shares some of her discontent with him. Harcourt had had a great success at Oxford also, and had striven greatly to make a life as a politician. He got himself elected to Parliament, and was sanguinely expecting a knighthood in the near future. And he had also fallen in love with Caroline, mainly because he viewed her as decorative addition to his political and social ambitions. George is irate at what he sees as disloyalty, and the burgeoning connection with Caroline is shattered.
Meanwhile, Lionel has arrived in England, in the town of Bath, and is busily worming himself into the social fabric of the feminine social network. But, mainly because of the interference of Sally Todd, one of the brighter butterflies in the communal meadow, his reputation precedes him, and he finds himself increasingly isolated. Then old George passes away. During his last days, there was a gathering of the clan at his mansion, and one of them was Sir Henry Harcourt, who was counting on Caroline inheriting massive amounts of money so he could marry her and pay off his burgeoning debts. But he's left out of the will, so he returns home and shoots himself. Arthur finally summons up the gumption to face his mom and appropriates enough money to enable his marriage with Adela to take place. Lionel gets nothing. Five years pass and Caroline and the remaining George marry and live fairly contentedly afterwards.
From the bit of research i did, this book was written when Trollope was about half way done with the Barsetshire novels. Maybe it represented a sort of break from that intensive effort, or, since the main theme of the book was the damage that money and the lack of it can do to all levels of society, he may have wanted to get away from the pleasant rural atmosphere of Barsetshire for a while. Since he wrote so much, getting up at five every morning to write his books for several hours, maybe he just was trying to change the rhythm somewhat. I thought this was a pretty good effort, although somewhat ragbaggy in its often unpredictable switches between situations and locales. But Trollope usually has interesting things to say about the human condition and is therefore almost always worth reading.