Swindlers, embezzlers and thieves

No author has ever understood the value of money, or the lack of it, and how it can affect a character, like Trollope. Essentially good men can bring themselves to do things they know to be wrong, like Henry Jones, the eponymous Cousin Henry who defrauds Isabel Broderick of her inheritance by concealing the last will of his uncle Indefer which changed the beneficiary from Henry to her. He was so plagued with guilt that he could not bring himself to destroy the document and kept it hidden in a book in the library of the house he inherited through his subterfuge.

Indeed, many of Trollope’s swindles and embezzlements are in a domestic setting. In The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson, the partners’ business is brought down in part through the embezzlement perpetrated by Jones who was Brown’s son-in law. Reversing this role, in The Vicar of Bulhampton, Walter Marrable is swindled out of his fortune by his own father.

Trollope, ever the true public servant, was particularly strong in his condemnatory drawing of Alaric Tudor, one of The Three Clerks, when he abused his position to embezzle money from trust funds.

He was, perhaps a little kinder to Major Tifto in The Duke’s Children, whom he allowed to be an attractive, amusing character while perpetrating the horse-racing fraud at the St Leger with a horse called Prime Minister which cost Plantagenet Palliser’s son Lord Silverbridge the then enormous sum of £70,000.

It seems that for Trollope, the status of victim had a bearing on how seriously he viewed the crime. In the case of Silverbridge, there is always the expectation that his father the Duke would be able to see him right and therefore it is not so serious a crime as where the victim would be left destitute by the villain. In this his attitude is strikingly modern.

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