As I was reaching the end of this book, I began to get worried. How was I going to summarize this? What will I do with it?* It’s easy to boil down an action-based plot, but in terms of pure action, almost nothing happens here. Near all of the novel is devoted to character study and to a rumination on the concept of pride. Further complicating summary, what does happen, happens non-linearly. And further still, when I say “book”, what I mean to say is twelve books — What Will He Do With It? is a very long work.
In the barest outline, Guy Darrell wants to restore his family’s fallen name. His only heir, a distant cousin named Lionel Haughton, is in love with Sophy Waife, the granddaughter of a mysterious traveling performer. It comes out that her grandfather is the convicted felon William Losely and that Sophy may be the child of Darrell’s estranged daughter Matilda — both damning in Darrell’s eye. Darrell struggles to overcome his pride for the sake for Lionel’s happiness.
Those few lines don’t scratch the surface of What Will He Do With It?, but it was either write that, or write page after page on the book’s several dozen characters and how they intersect.
* Yes, Bulwer-Lytton does that many, many, many times throughout the narrative, small caps and all