The Belton Estate by Anthony Trollope was written in 1865.
Clara Amedroz is the only surviving child of Squire Bernard Amedroz, the current tenant in possession under a fee tail male of the Belton Estate. Her brother, who would have been the heir, through dissipation and extravagances has forced the squire to pay all of his income and savings to pay the son’s debts. Then the son kills himself. The elderly squire, after the suicide of his spendthrift son, fears his daughter will be a pauper as the entailed estate will pass to a remote cousin, Will Belton.
Clara finds herself with two suitors. One is the presumptive heir of the Belton Estate, Will Belton. (presumptive meaning that if he lives and the current tenant in possession dies, he will inherit.) The other comes to her also through an entailed estate. Captain Aylmer, who Clara fancies herself in love with, is a second son. His elder brother will inherit the family property and title at Aylmer Park. His mother’s sister, Mrs. Winterfeld, a childless widow, owns the estate at Perivale. The Captain visits and develops a relationship with his wealthy Aunt Winterfield. Up until then Aunt Winterfield had been expected to leave her property to her niece, Clara. But the aunt changes her will and leaves the property to Captain Aylmer. On her death bed, the aunt extracts a promise form the Captain that he will marry Clara, who is her niece whom she loves and worries that she will have no position in the world after her father’s death (and yet leaves her nothing).
Will Belton talks of breaking the entail on the Belton Estate. Trollope doesn’t tell us why the lawyers tell Will Belton that he can’t give Clara the Belton Estate. It is curious because Will Belton doesn’t seem to understand the entail. He says, “It’s is mine. Why am I not free to give what is mine?” But we know that he is just the next tenant in possession after Mr. Amedroz. The estate is still entailed on Will Belton’s male heirs.
Clara on the other hand had no such confusion and clearly understand the entail. In the end WIll Belton’s advisors recommend a charge of an annuity of 800 pounds a year on the estate
Second son Captain Aylmer, himself a victim of the entail on his own father’s estate, does not rail against the entail. Neverthelss he is very interested in the possibility of Will Belton giving something to Clara so she could bring money to the marriage. He hopes for this even though in his own case, he has no expectation whatsoever of his own elder brother doing anything for him.
There are several themes that run through The Belton Estate.
- There is the problem of an upper class impoverished woman. What are her prospects marriage? And worse, what are her prospects if she does not marry?
- Another theme is the realization that the easier something is to attain the less valuable it is. Captain Aylmer is disappointed that Clara accepted his proposal of marriage so readily.
- A sub-plot is Clara’s friendship with Mrs. Askerton who flouted social convention by leaving India under the protection of another man in order to flee a drunken and abusive husband. When her husband died she married her protector.
- And of course – Clara’s backing and forthing trying to choose between two suitors.