Trollope returns in Is He Popenjoy to two of his favorite subjects: property and inheritance. As in “Doctor Thorne,” the issues are complicated by the specter of possible illegitimacy. Lord George Germain, a thoroughly respectable, upstanding, if not particularly bright younger son with new wife, rather expects to inherit a title, since his vicious and dissolute elder brother, the Marquis of Brotherton, who lives in Italy, shows no signs of settling down and producing heirs. Then comes a thunderbolt in the form of a letter from the Marquis suddenly claiming that he has, late in life, married an Italian widow and sired a son. This little boy, if he is indeed legitimate, is Lord Popenjoy and the heir to the marquisate.
But is he legitimate? Are his parents in fact properly united in holy wedlock? And were they so at the time of his birth on alien soil? How on earth to find out? The book, which starts almost as a comedy of manners (and perhaps also a comedy of manors), takes on a darker and more sardonic tone with this mystery, and with some other suspected and actual romantic entanglements which are not entirely in the aristocratic Victorian rule-book. Among the large cast of characters are two memorable foreigners: the repellent German feminist Baroness Bannmann, and the rather more attractive American version, Amelia Q. Fleabody (not, of course, to be confused in any way with the real Elizabeth Peabody, who under another name, lies at the heart of Henry James’s The Bostonians).(Summary by Nicholas Clifford)