'There are inherent emotional forces in humanity to which the inherited influences must submit'

 [Plot Summary]  [Publishing History]

The Legacy of Cain - Chatto & Windus three decker.

1889 Chatto & Windus first English edition

Novel dedicated to Mrs Henry Powell Bartley (Carrie Graves) acknowledging her skill and patience in copying manuscripts for the printer.  Henry Bartley was Collin's solicitor and, ironically, embezzled from the estate - the fate suffered by Miss Jillgall in the story.  Published in 1888, it was the final novel completed by Collins and the last to be syndicated by Tillotson.  The Legacy of Cain explores the theme of hereditary evil, and attacks the idea that 'bad blood' necessarily results in a criminality.


The Legacy of Cain - Chatto & Windus yellwback.

1891 Chatto & Windus yellowback


The main story begins in 1875.  Helena and Eunice are sisters brought up by their father, the Reverend Abel Gracedieu.  He has deliberately kept them in ignorance of their true ages because the elder daughter was adopted in 1858, after her natural mother was executed for the brutal murder of her husband.  The story's main narrator is the prison governor who always feared the adoption would end badly because of the taint of inherited evil.

The household is joined by the minister's impoverished cousin, Selina Jillgall, to whom Helena takes an immediate dislike.  The good-natured Eunice, however, becomes very friendly with Miss Jillgall whose only other ally is a Mrs Tegenbruggen.  In 1858 she was Elizabeth Chance, lover of Eunice's murdered father.  Mrs Tegenbruggen is determined to discover which daughter is the elder and make trouble.


Eunice,  visiting friends in London, meets young Philip Dunboyne.  They fall in love but when Philip later sees Helena she captures his affections.  Eunice finds out and to compose herself takes some of her ailing father's medicine.  Under its influence she sees a ghostly apparition of her executed mother urging her to kill Helena in revenge.  Helena incurs the disapproval of both the Reverend Gracedieu and Philip's father, brother-in-law to the executed woman.  The distressed minister asks the governor for advice.  Helena, to spite them both, provokes her father and, permanently unhinged, he tries to kill the governor with a razor.


Philip tires of Helena and wishes to marry the now reluctant Eunice.  Helena in revenge obtains digitalis with a forged prescription and attempts to poison Philip while pretending to nurse him.  She is arrested and sent to prison.  Philip fully recovers and finally persuades Eunice to marry him, but only after the governor, to thwart the mischievous Mrs Tegenbruggen, has revealed the truth: it was Eunice who was adopted after her mother's execution.  Helena serves a two year sentence and emigrates to America where she prospers as the leader of a women's religious cult.



The Legacy of Cain - Popular edition by the Universal Publishing Company.

1890s Universal Publishing Company's New York edition 


First published in the Leigh Journal and Times, 17 February--29 June 1888, and several other *Tillotson's syndicated newspapers.


Book publication

First English edition

3 volumes, Chatto & windus, London 1889.  Dark-blue cloth, front covers blocked in red and black, spines lettered in gilt, grey and white floral end-papers.  Half-title in each volume.  Published in November 1888.

Vol I          viii + 290 pp

Vol II         vi + 264 pp

Vol III        vi + 282 pp.  32 pp publishers' catalogue dated October 1888 bound in at end.


1 volume editions

Chatto & Windus 1889-1932.  Sutton, Stroud 1993.


1st U S editions

Lovell's Library (no 1176), New York, June or July 1888; Harpers, New York, 8 July 1888.  Both precede English edition.



Dutch, 1889; Italian, Milan 1890.

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