Sunday, November 08, 2009


The Tontine, Volume 1, Thomas B Costain, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1955, 408 pp

Imagine my consternation as I reached the last page of the rather long #9 bestseller of 1955, only to notice that this was only Volume 1. Then I discovered that none of my libraries had Volume 2, so I had to order it from Alibris. When it arrived I found I had another 464 pages to go! Apparently books of over 800 pages were not published in one volume in 1955.

Fortunately, it is a good piece of historical fiction, set in England beginning on the day Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo. A tontine was a sort of gamble plus insurance scam people could buy into, which then became a lottery because the last living person holding a share won the final large amount of money.

Meanwhile the story moves along through the 19th century as industrialization and commerce grow into the main games and as two key families and their descendants feud through all the changes. Stock and bonds, slavery and colonialism, love and careers, are all part of the story. A large cast of characters ranging from kings and millionaires to sailors and portrait painters, from rich and powerful to poor and striving, includes all types of personalities both male and female.

As Volume 1 ends, George Carboy, who has become the richest man in England through his many ventures, is being challenged by his very own lawyer over conditions in his factories. I predict then that Volume 2 will deal with the rise of the very bottom of society, the workers, and after many more pages, I will learn who reaped the benefits of the tontine.

(I found Volume 1 of The Tontine in my local library. It is also available from used booksellers on line and probably in used bookstores.)

No comments:

Post a Comment