This novel tells a story of crossed inheritance. One Ralph Newton, a handsome ne'er-do-well, has the expectation of the family property. His cousin (also Ralph Newton) is a wholly worthy fellow, but a bastard and may not by law inherit what his father desperately wants to bequeath him. This situation provides Trollope with the occasion for a profound analysis of moral worth and legal right. It is a novel of Trollope's maturity, featuring the darker hues and confident social criticism of his late phase together with streaks of broad comedy.