(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Harry Coningsby is fourteen years old when he meets his grandfather, the Marquis of Monmouth, for the first time. He was placed in his grandfather’s charge when he was very young with the understanding that his widowed mother, a commoner, was never to see him again. He was turned over, sight unseen, to the care of Mr. Rigby, a member of Parliament who sat for one of Lord Monmouth’s ten boroughs.

Lord Monmouth, who preferred to live abroad, returns to his native land in 1832 in order to help fight the Reform Bill. Hearing favorable reports of his grandson, he orders Mr. Rigby to bring the boy from Eton to Monmouth House. Unfortunately, young Coningsby is unable to put out of his mind thoughts of his mother, who died when he was nine years old, and he bursts into tears at the sight of his grandfather. Lord Monmouth, disgusted by this sign of weakness, orders him to be led away. He thinks to himself that the sentimental boy’s future probably lies with the church. Fortunately, the boy becomes friendly with the marquis’s guests, Princess Colonna and her stepdaughter, Lucretia. The princess passes on such glowing descriptions of Coningsby to his grandfather that they are on excellent terms by the time he returns to school.

At Eton, one of Coningsby’s close friends is Oswald Millbank, a manufacturer’s son. When Coningsby leaves Eton in 1835, he explores Manchester’s factories before going to Coningsby Castle to join his grandfather. During his journey, he visits the Millbank mills. Oswald is abroad, but he is hospitably greeted by his friend’s father. At the Millbank mansion, Coningsby meets beautiful but shy young Edith Millbank and learns from her Whig father that he favors the rise of a new force in government—a natural aristocracy of able men, not one composed of hereditary peers.

Before departing for Coningsby Castle, young Coningsby is tempted to inquire about the striking portrait of a woman that graces the dining room wall. His host, much upset by his question, makes a brusque, evasive answer.

Lord Monmouth, backing Mr. Rigby for reelection to Parliament, returns to his borough and schedules an elaborate program of dances, receptions, and plays to gain a following for his Conservative candidate. Princess Colonna and Lucretia are again his grandfather’s guests. Coningsby has no need, however, to confine his attentions to them; as Lord Monmouth’s kinsman and possible heir, he finds himself much sought after by society. He also finds time to encourage Flora, a member of the troupe of actors entertaining the marquis’s guests. The girl is shy and suffers from stage fright.

Here Coningsby meets Sidonia, a fabulously wealthy young Jew. Coningsby finds his new friend impartial in his political judgments, not only because his fortune allows him to be just but also because his religion disqualifies him as a voter. During their...

(The entire section is 1186 words.)