Anthony Adverse

by Hervey Allen

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1798

First published: 1933

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Picaresque romance

Time of work: Late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries

Locale: Western Europe, Africa, and North America

Principal Characters:

Anthony Adverse, the eponymous protagonist

Maria, his mother

Don Luis, Marquis da Vincitata, her husband

Mr. Bonnyfeather, Anthony's grandfather

Faith Paleologus, Mr. Bonnyfeather's housekeeper

Angela Giuseppe, Anthony's mistress

Florence Udney, Anthony's first wife

Dolores de la Fuente, Anthony's second wife

Vincent Nolte, Anthony's friend, a banker

The Story

The pretty young Marquise Maria da Vincitata, daughter of a Scottish merchant of Leghorn, fell in love with young Denis Moore within the year after her marriage and met with him secretly in France while her husband was taking a cure for his gout. Don Luis, the arrogant Marquis da Vincitata, discovering the intrigue, spirited his wife away and killed her gallant, luckless lover when he started out in pursuit. Maria's baby was born high in the Alps. After his wife died during childbirth, Don Luis took the child to Leghorn, where he stealthily deposited the infant at the Convent of Jesus the Child. The only tokens of its parentage were a cape and a statue of the Madonna that had belonged to Maria.

The boy, christened Anthony by the nuns, lived at the convent until he was age ten. Then he was delivered to a prominent merchant of the town, Mr. Bonnyfeather, to become his apprentice.

Bonnyfeather and his housekeeper had no trouble recognizing the cape and the doll as possessions of the merchant's daughter, Maria. Although Anthony was given the surname Adverse and was not told of his relationship to his benefactor, he was carefully educated with the tacit understanding that he would one day inherit the flourishing Bonnyfeather business.

Anthony matured early. Seduced by the housekeeper, Faith Paleologus, he also had a brief affair with the cook's daughter, Angela. He was also attracted to the English consul's daughter, Florence Udney, but was not encouraged by her mother, who was unaware that Anthony had any expectations.

Anticipating the eventual arrival of Napoleon's army in Leghorn, Mr. Bonnyfeather quietly liquidated his business, sent his money abroad, and made plans to retire. He arranged passage for his grandson on the American ship Wampanoag, under Captain Jorham. Anthony was to sail to Cuba to collect some money on a long-overdue account.

The Wampanoag stopped first at Genoa. There Anthony visited Father Xavier, a Jesuit who had been his guardian at the convent. Mr. Bonnyfeather had given the priest the right to decide whether the time had come to tell Anthony that he was the merchant's heir. It was from the priest's lips that Anthony learned of his origin and prospects.

When the Wampanoag reached Havana, Anthony discovered that his creditor, Gallego, was in Africa as a slave trader. With the aid of the captain-general, Don Luis de las Casas, a plan was devised whereby Anthony would sail to Africa as a government agent. There he would impound a cargo of Gallego's slaves, bring them to Cuba for sale, and split the proceeds with the captain-general, thus satisfying the Bonnyfeather debt. Strongly attracted by Don Luis' young relation, Dolores de la Fuente, the young man finally agreed to stay in Africa and to ship several additional cargoes of slaves, for the enrichment of the captain-general and the increase of his own hopes that he might one day marry Dolores.

The trip aboard the Ariostatica was a trying one. Father Francois, a monk who was being shipped to Africa because he had tried to give aid and comfort to the slaves, fell ill of yellow fever and nearly died. Anthony, forced to rule the crew and its captain with an iron hand, was able to put down a mutiny as the ship sailed up the Rio Pongo to the Gallego establishment. There he learned that Gallego had died a few months before, leaving his factor, Ferdinando, in charge.

Anthony took over the trade station and, for three years, shipped cargoes of human freight to Cuba to be sold there. To the sorrow of Father Francois, he took the half-breed Neleta, Ferdinando's sister, as his mistress. He, however, was not able completely to reconcile himself to trading in human bodies.

While Anthony was absent from the trading station, Father Francois was captured by a native witch doctor, Mnombibi, and crucified. Upon his return, Anthony found the priest pinioned to his own cross. With the knowledge that Mr. Bonnyfeather was dead and that Captain Bittern of the Unicorn was waiting in the Rio Pongo to bear him back to Leghorn, Anthony decided to leave the trading station. He left Neleta behind.

Don Luis, Marquis da Vincitata, arrived in Leghorn at the same time. They were both there on business, the Marquis to close the Casa Bonnyfeather, of which he was landlord, and Anthony to receive the merchant's will from Vincent Nolte, a banker with whom he had been friendly in his youth. Vincent suggested that Anthony take advantage of an offer made by M. Ouvrard, a French financier who was planning to supply the bankrupt Spanish government with French food and money in return for silver from Mexican mines. Anthony was to take charge of the shipments, which would arrive at New Orleans from Vera Cruz, and to reinvest profitably as much of the money as he could. The rest was to be shipped to Florence Udney's husband, David Parish, in Philadelphia, and from there on to Europe.

Traveling to Paris to make arrangements, Vincent and Anthony were waylaid in the Alps by Don Luis, who tried to force their coach over a cliff. His plans were thwarted, however, and his own carriage and coachman plunged into the deep gorge. At the time, Don Luis was traveling with Faith Paleologus, whom he had made his mistress. The two had dismounted to watch the destruction of Anthony and his friend. After their plot failed, they were left to descend the mountain on foot.

In Paris, Anthony met Angela for the first time in many years. She had borne him a son and had become a famous singer and the mistress of Napoleon. She refused to marry Anthony and follow him to America, but she did give him his son. At her entreaty, Anthony left the child with Vincent's childless cousin, Anna.

Anthony's affairs prospered in New Orleans. He was able to invest the silver profitably, to form a bank, and to build a handsome plantation for himself. When David Parish died of heart failure, Anthony married Florence. Their daughter, Maria, was three years old when the plantation house caught fire one night while Anthony was away. His wife and daughter were burned to death.

Burdened by his sorrow, Anthony started west. Captured by a tribe of Indians, he escaped, only to fall into the hands of soldiers from Santa Fe. There he was brought before the governor, Don Luis, and sentenced to go to Mexico City in a prison train. That same day, Don Luis had a stroke and died. Faith, his wife by that time, prepared to return to Spain.

Anthony spent two years in the Hospital of St. Lazaro before Dolores, widow of a wealthy landowner, found him and arranged his release. Later, they married and went to live in the village of San Luz. Dolores bore him two children. All went well until an ax slipped and caught Anthony in the groin while he was felling a tree. He bled to death before he was found.

Many years later, long after the village had been deserted by Dolores and her people, a group of migrants on their way to Santa Fe came to its site. The little Madonna, which Anthony had carried with him through life, still stood in a chapel in the ruins of San Luz. Mary Jorham, the young niece of Captain Jorham, found the image, but she was not allowed to keep it because her parents thought it a heathen idol. Instead, it served as a fine target for a shooting match. It was splintered into a thousand pieces.

Critical Evaluation:

A massive novel of intrigue and romance, heavily spiced with history and action, ANTHONY ADVEDRE was immensely popular when it was first published. All the characters are larger than life, ruled by jealousies, enormous greed, and overwhelming cravings for vengeance; yet thanks to the vitality of the narrative, they never seem merely absurd. Few novels of such size move with such an unrelenting pace. As coaches and horses ceaselessly rush from one part of Europe to another, so the story catapults from one subplot to another. The author is in no hurry to tell his story, but he never risks boring the reader. Although the characters are not analyzed in depth, their motives are always clear. If the book has a flaw, perhaps it is that there is little mystery to the characters, although they are involved in mysteries. The obscure corners of the human personality are never explored, but the characters do not suffer from this lack; they are filled with life and are both amusing and memorable. Don Luis, Faith, and Mr. Bonnyfeather are old-fashioned, Dickensian characters, carefully formed of "characteristics" rather than allowed to develop according to the psychological insights of the author.

Nearly one hundred pages pass before the hero of this picaresque novel makes his appearance as a baby, but the scene is set for the intrigues that follow. The novel is intricately constructed, with characters reappearing and long-hidden secrets suddenly changing the course of the action. This attempt to create a modern TOM JONES is not entirely unsuccessful. The difficulty is that this book does not speak for its time as Fielding's book did for its time. Ultimately, ANTHONY ADVEDRE is no more than a superior entertainment, well-crafted and enjoyable, but it makes no statement and is a part of no literary tradition.

The precocious and lusty personality of Anthony is the finest part of the book. His spirit of adventure and his determination and cleverness win the reader's admiration, and his vitality holds the reader's interest. As with TOM JONES, the hero's destiny is a secret that can be discovered only by unraveling certain clues; and as with Fielding's protagonist, Anthony does not let himself be inhibited by his lack of a definite origin. If the book as a whole is less than the sum of its parts, it is not Anthony's fault; he comes close to being a major literary figure. Angela is perhaps the most intriguing character in the book, and one can easily imagine her rising to become Napoleon's mistress. More of her inner life and emotions are revealed than those of any other character. The novel is also interesting because its various sections represent different types of romantic fiction.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access