THE FAMILY MANSION by Anthony C. Winkler tells the story of Hartley Fudges, whose personal destiny unfolds against the backdrop of nineteenth-century British culture, a time when English society was based upon the strictest subordination and stratification of the classes. Hartley's decision to migrate to Jamaica at the age of twenty-three seems sensible at first: in the early 1800s Jamaica was far and away the richest and most opulent of all the crown colonies. But for all its fabulous wealth, Jamaica was a difficult and inhospitable place for an immigrant.
The complex saga of Hartley's life is revealed in vivid scenes that depict the vicissitudes of ninteenth-century English and Jamaican societies. Aside from violent slave revolts, newcomers had to survive the nemesis of the white man in the tropics—namely, yellow fever. With Hartley's point of view as its primary focus, the narrative transports readers to exotic lands, simultaneously exploring the brutality of England's slavery-based colonization.
In 19th century England, the aristocracy were compelled to follow primogeniture laws, where first born sons inherited all the family wealth and second or subsequent born sons were left to find other means to scrape out a living without family financial support. Despite this, these sons were still expected to uphold social morals and values. Many travelled to the colonies to start new lives.
In the novel, THE FAMILY MANSION, second born son, Hartley Fudges, is faced with the dilemma of how to support himself. The easiest way to gain wealth would be to seduce and then marry a young wealthy widow. When this fails, he attempts to murder his elder brother with disastrous results. His plot is discovered and his father exiles him to Jamaica. There, on a sugar plantation, Hartley must learn to manage not only the daily operations, but slaves and their forced labour. In this land of contrasts, slave vs master, black vs white, poor vs rich, Hartley seeks to adapt, hoping to find contentment and happiness.
As a native of Jamaica, the author is able to weave intricate historical and environmental details which lend authenticity to this satire. The novel is charming, filled with accurate facts, and gives precious insight into a way of life long abandoned. The characters are vividly portrayed, their actions cleverly touching upon the readers’ emotions because of their heart-wrenching predicaments and/or sometimes laugh-out-loud antics. It is written in an easy to read prose. Witty, humorous, and full of interesting predicaments, this is a wonderful human interest story.