John Parke is the heir presumptive to his elder half-brother Lord Frogmore - in other words is his nearest heir unless the 60-year-old Lord Frogmore should marry and have children. John finds himself engaged and then married to Letitia, a scheming woman socially beneath him.
This suspenseful novel tells how Lord Frogmore unexpectedly marries, how Letitia tries to prevent his heir being born, and how she and John become guardians of the heir apparent. Letitia is one of the few truly evil characters in Mrs Oliphant's novels. Will her plotting go the length of murder?
Biographical and other notes
The novel's description of a post-partum psychosis may seem extreme, but in fact the mother of Margaret Oliphant's close friend, novelist Anne Thackeray Ritchie, had gone mad after childbirth and never recovered: Isabella Thackeray, wife of novelist WM Thackeray, went into a severe decline after the birth of her third child, and among other incidents, tried to drown her firstborn, little Anny, when Anny was about three years old. Eventually Isabella went into private care for the rest of her life. (See the biography Anny by Henrietta Garnett, which provides a fascinating picture of Victorian life, especially of the complex world of Anne Thackeray Ritchie and her relations, and including the early years of her step-niece Virginia Woolf.)
British publishing information
Periodical: Birmingham Weekly Post & others 18 Oct 1890 - 11 Apr 1891