Available to members only
Introduction by Mary Warnock
London, Chapman and Hall, 1865
In his Autobiography, Trollope claimed that — in Miss Mackenzie — he had attempted a story in which there was ‘no love’ and that he had made his heroine a ‘very unattractive old maid’. Trollope was being slightly disingenuous, and his heroine did indeed fall in love.
Miss Mackenzie is almost wholly about one woman’s search for love and it is a very moving portrayal of the difficulties facing an unmarried older woman of means. Upon the death of the brother for whom she has cared most of her adult life, and under whose roof she has lived, Margaret Mackenzie finds herself in possession of a good fortune, but with little idea of the world outside, and her place in it.
Deciding to rent a small house down in Littlebath, she takes her surviving brother Tom’s daughter with her as her ward. Upon arrival she finds a quiet war is going on between the Evangelical Society, led by Mr Stumfold and his imperious wife and the ‘sinful set’, represented by characters like Miss Todd, a card player. Miss Mackenzie’s fortune is immediately a target for several men: her brother’s junior partner Mr Rubb, who wears ghastly yellow gloves which make her shudder when he pays a call; her cousin John Ball, a widowed father of seven, who lives with his supercilious parents Lord and Lady Ball in Twickenham; and the oleaginous Mr McGuire, one of the ‘Stumfoldians’, with a terrifying squint and a curate’s income.
Miss Mackenzie has to pick a way through this minefield, all the time conscious that she would readily give up her fortune if she can simply find love. In an effort to help her brother, Tom, she has lent his business a large sum of money without security, and finds that she has been misled as to its safety. Further enquiries about this and her own inheritance suddenly unearth legal problems: John Ball appears to be the legitimate heir to her money. Yet he has also a great affection for Margaret and asks her to marry him, much to the consternation of his mother.
Mr Maguire, still smarting from Margaret’s refusal of his offer of marriage, gets wind of the legal case mounted to determine the fate of her money, and John Ball’s hand in it. In the misguided hope of still winning Miss Mackenzie’s hand, he publishes a series of long, sanctimonious letters about the case in the Christian Examiner to her profound embarrassment.
The novel contains some witty minor characters and scenes, including the proud landlady Mrs Buggins; Margaret’s puffed-up sister-in-law, Mrs Tom Mackenzie, who hosts a disastrous dinner party during which nothing goes right; and Margaret’s last visit to her uncle and aunt in which Lady Ball behaves as badly as any female character in Trollope’s oeuvre. Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton thought the book ‘full of the most delicate beauty.’