The thirty-five year-old (hence utterly over-the-hill) Miss Margaret Mackenzie, having devoted her life to others, suddenly finds herself with no one to care for, and in possession of a moderate fortune. Having money, she is now much sought-after and no longer universally deemed too old to marry. Partly because she has spent her life taking care of the brother whose money she has now inherited, she has no experience of wealth or popularity. Miss Mackenzie is the definition of “other-oriented. (Indeed, Trollope originally considered naming the novel, and his heroine, “Griselda”, presumably to invoke the folkloric character’s qualities of stolid obedience and endless patience.) These circumstances are the perfect set-up for classic Trollopian swipes and snipes at various fortune-hunters and other obsequies, and more broadly at society’s sexism, classism, and Mammonism. She comes into her own and begins to try to enjoy life, at first juggling, but ultimately rejecting, three serious suitors. As the story unfolds, the particulars of her deceased brother’s life and death reveal themselves, Miss Mackenzie becomes increasingly able to know who she is and what she wants, and both she and the reader are better able to discern the true colors of those around her. The question is: Will her self-knowledge overcome both her personal history and various social prejudices, so as to allow her to fall in love with – and say “yes” to – a really good man?
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