Cousin Henry

Around the time we settled on Henry’s name, I Googled it just to make sure there weren’t any notorious connotations he’d be saddled with for his entire life.

The only significant association that came up is Cousin Henry, a Victorian novel by Anthony Trollope first published in 1879. I’d never read it or even heard of it before, but I thought a literary precedent would be fine, sophisticated even.

I briefly considered buying a first-edition as a sort of heirloom gift for Henry. But beforehand I read a few short summaries of the plot which centers on the moral dilemma of the title character, a potential heir to an inheritance.

It’s not really specified why, but Cousin Henry (the character) is described as pathetic and contemptible. He never actually rises (or sinks) to the level of a proper villain — just a pitiful, conflicted character placed in a no-win situation. Not exactly an inspirational role model for my son to admire, so I decided to pass on buying him a copy.

I may one day read it and since its copyright has expired, it can be read for free here. What interests me about this Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition is the portrait chosen for the cover. Just like the designer’s attempt to put a face to the character of Cousin Henry, I spend a lot of time trying to picture the adult face of Henry Cousin.