Book Review: The Belton Estate by Anthony Trollope

Twenty-five year old Clara Amedroz, following the death of her brother, Charles, the heir to the Belton Estate in Somerset, learns that her dowry has been squandered on her brother's debts and when her father dies she will be destitute and homeless, as the entail of the Belton estate will pass to a distant cousin, William (Will) Belton.

It is assumed that Clara will inherit from Mrs. Winterfield, a lady she calls aunt, but is in fact not a blood relation. However, when Mrs. Winterfield dies she leaves her entire estate to her nephew, Captain Frederic Aylmer, the man Clara believes herself in love with though she has received no encouragement from him in all the years of their acquaintance.

Will, a prosperous Norfolk farmer, has not been welcomed at Belton since a childhood disagreement with Charles saw him banished, but when advised of his cousin's death, he immediately comes to Belton Castle to offer his assistance to Clara and her father. He finds the estate mismanaged, but before he can instigate any changes he must overcome Mr. Amedroz' dislike of him.

Despite Clara's age and her impoverished circumstances, she is presented with two very eligible suitors in Will and Captain Aylmer. Both are successful in their chosen professions, but here the similarities end. Captain Aylmer, from a wealthy family, is a Member of Parliament and a gentleman. He is cool and unemotional, and only offers marriage to Clara due to a death-bed promise made to his aunt. Will, on the other hand, is impetuous, full of good humour and declares his feelings for Clara within a matter of days of his arrival at Belton Castle.

Another option other than marriage is available to Clara, but her pride will not allow her to accept charity from either of her suitors. She refuses £1,500 from Captain Aylmer, the amount he believed his aunt intended to settle on her, and Will's generosity in allowing her to remain at Belton indefinitely when her father dies.

As Captain Aylmer's nature and that of his family is revealed, the outcome of the story wasn't hard to deduce. When first introduced Captain Aylmer is likeable though a little reserved, but as the story progressed I gradually came to dislike him. His treatment of Clara was not of a man in love and deferring to his mother in dealing with Clara did not bode well for their future relationship. I found it strange that he didn't rush to Clara's side when her father died. The only member of the Aylmer family to offer Clara support was Lord Aylmer, the Captain's father, but even he wasn't brave enough to contradict his wife, who wasn't in favour of the marriage. One of the more entertaining scenes in the novel is the confrontation between Clara and the formidable Lady Aylmer over Clara's friendship with Mrs. Askerton, to whom some scandal is attached.

The only fault I could find with Will was I felt his offer of marriage was a little hasty. His feelings for Clara never wavered. He remained committed to the estate and the Amedroz family despite Clara's rejection of him.

With Clara my emotions see-sawed between admiration and exasperation. At times she is obtuse. Perhaps this was to instill some comedy into the novel as The Belton Estate is considered to be one of Anthony Trollope's comedic novels? I found this irritating. It made the conversations between Clara and Mrs. Askerton appear confrontational and not what one would expect between two friends who seemingly have affection for one another.

I did enjoy this novel until its ending. The story went beyond what I thought was the natural place for it to end and the manner of the ending was strange. I was puzzled as to why Anthony Trollope chose to end this novel in such a way. My pleasure in Clara having realised her mistake in choosing Captain Aylmer was spoiled by the childish dialogue with Will in the final scene. This was completely out of character and destroyed my overall satisfaction with the novel.

However, I am still interested in reading more of Anthony Trollope's novels. While not yet ready to commit to the Barchester or the Palliser series, his shorter, stand alone novels, which include Castle Richmond, Cousin Henry and Rachel Ray are on my reading wish list.

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