The Family Mansion

Written by Anthony C. Winkler
Review by Audra Friend

A complicated character study and darkly comedic look at early 19th-century plantation life, The Family Mansion tells the story of a young Englishman’s three-year stint as an overseer at a Jamaican sugar cane plantation.

Hartley Fudges is the second son who will not inherit his father’s title, monetary holdings, or family mansion. After a botched attempt to kill his older brother, Hartley flees to Jamaica, where he becomes one of a handful of white overseers to nearly one thousand slaves.

Hartley is both horrific and admirable in his behavior: he buys a slave in order to set him free yet has no qualms about fathering children with his slaves. His freed slave, now on a campaign to become a “gentleman,” is resentful of the changing order in his world, while Hartley himself finds true love with a slave woman who returns his affections just as passionately. The affair changes his behavior, blinding him to the growing discord and rebellion on the plantation until events culminate with a violent tragedy that awakens Hartley to the absurdity of the “English gentleman.”

The plot and narrative style favors the 19th-century novel, with various asides providing historical detail or context. While readable, the seemingly blasé tone is at times disturbing – Winkler’s arch tone implies a kind of understanding with Hartley and his choices – and provocative. The narrative has a droll, wry, and at times, downright wicked sense of black humor and serves to highlight the uncomfortably real history of the English in Jamaica.