Nepotism in Novels

Among the Trump administration’s many, many horrible aspects is the blatant nepotism of incompetent daughter Ivanka and incompetent son-in-law Jared Kushner “serving” in major positions.

So, how about nepotism in literature? The beneficiaries are often also not deserving of their positions, which makes them easy for readers to root against — though there are occasional examples of those characters having some talent. Increasing the un-sympathy factor is that nepotism beneficiaries frequently aren’t nice, frequently act entitled, and frequently are quite flush with unearned family money.

Novels — historical fiction or otherwise — with royal characters of course often feature such people. For instance, in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, there’s the weak-willed Louis XIII who obviously had a bunch of other Louis guys come before him. One of them, Louis XI, is in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Quentin Durward.

Then there’s Rufus Weylin, the son of a slaveholder in Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred. He’s somewhat needy and unsure of himself as a boy, but grows into a mostly brutal and not especially smart master when he takes over the family plantation from his merciless father Tom.

Or how about the scenario in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novel Worth Dying For? In that book, Seth Duncan works for a Mafia-connected Nebraska trucking company run by his father and uncles that ruthlessly extorts business from surrounding farms and engages in human trafficking. The vile Seth continues his family’s low ethical standards by also abusing his wife.

Of course, participating in or taking over the family “business” doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. While there are plenty of differing views on nihilism and such in Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons, it seems okay that Arkady eventually assumes the management of his father’s modest Russian estate.

Another positive nepotism example is in One for the Money, the first of Janet Evanovich’s seriocomic Stephanie Plum crime novels. Stephanie gets a bounty-hunting job via her bail-bondsman cousin Vinnie, and ends up being quite good at that work (in One and the many subsequent Plum novels) despite some periodic bumbling.

Then there’s the complicated would-be nepotism situation in Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son. The wealthy Paul Dombey is so focused on his son, and the hope that the boy will eventually take over his shipping company, that he almost totally rejects/neglects his daughter Florence.

Before ending this post, I’ll add that in real life there are plenty of children and other relatives of novelists who became novelists themselves. But that’s another topic — discussed in this piece I wrote in 2011.

Examples of nepotistic characters you’ve found memorable?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which has a July 4th theme — is here.

53 thoughts on “Nepotism in Novels

        • Jes a little tidbit about the First Lady (shudder) I’ve been following the Epstein news and read that she was “brought” into America (along with other Slovenian girls) by a certain modeling agency and she hooked up with Trump. So the story behind her entrance into this country is far from the truth. In fact, I think I’m living in Bizarro World when I read all the gossip out there. For instance, Donald Barr, Wm. Barr’s father, hired Epstein to teach at Dalton School NY although Epstein did not have a teaching certificate or a degree. Donald Barr btw wrote a novel “Space Relations” about a man who was a sex slave (hooray for underground lit). Personally, I think SDNY arrested Epstein either in retaliation of Wm. Barr re Muller investigation or Barr was compromised in some manner to hand Epstein over. Gonna be some interesting developments there, but I can’t wait to read Donald Barr’s book, ha! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2986183-space-relations

          Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you, Susi! Sorry about the Anonymous thing.

              Enjoyed your droll and pointed comment. SO many sleazy connections among sleazy rich white people. And, yes, Melania entered and stayed in the U.S. under very questionable circumstances. But that doesn’t bother the vicious anti-immigrant Republican mob. After all, she’s white… 😦

              Like

  1. You can say what you want about the Trump family (go ahead– I won’t mind), but Bobby as AG to President Jack makes the Kennedys an example. More of a good one than not, but it’s nepotism anyway.

    In real life, I knew a man who took his son-in-law into the family business. An unsolved murder later, a mob connection or so thrown in, and the son-in-law owned the business, about which the daughter felt so badly she cut off all communication with her 2 brothers, who got nothing. Blood is thicker than water, but thinner than money.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That Kennedy nepotism was not good, even as the Trump family out-corrupts almost every other prominent family in U.S. history.

      Wow — some family you described in your second paragraph!!!

      “Blood is thicker than water, but thinner than money” — GREAT line.

      Like

  2. Re nepotism:
    First thing that came to mind was ‘shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations’, and according to one source, that phrase, of 19th century origin, derives from an earlier one (1700, Lancashire),clogs to clogs,etc., clogs being the footwear of farmhands.

    Another source tells me the Scottish say “The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs.” In China, the three generations go from rice paddies to rice paddies.

    I may have stumbled on a universal truth– and as you know, them thangs are hard to come by!

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL, jhNY — universal truths are indeed hard to come by! 🙂

      Yup, there is not always generational progress — something we’re also experiencing in today’s USA as many millennials (faced with such challenges as being buried in college debt) struggle to do better than their parents.

      Like

  3. Family business can be brutal. Zeus had to drive out Daddy, the founder, just because the old man developed a taste for offspring, and before you knew it, he was having to drive down Titans from trying to take over heaven from below. No wonder he wandered lonely as a cloud from time to time. Well, lonely till he enveloped Io.

    (I’ve been reading Golding’s translation [1567] of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” of late. Helps to sound things out. Reference books help too. Yet fun!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful post! I’ve included nepotism in [the first draft of] my own story, but your post has inspired me to further research the topic further so I can include aspects, including ones you mentioned here. Acting entitled is does come with nepotism.

    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Dave,

    I’m currently reading the last book in John Jakes’ historical fiction series “The Kent Family Chronicles”. Through five or six generations in one story, I guess nepotism is to be expected. But I’m not sure if it really fits this week as nepotism seems to be something that shouldn’t be encouraged, but it works fairly well for the Kent family. Most of the eight novels seem to have a father / son pairing where the father is well established in the printing firm created by the family’s founder. Often the son is trying to find his way in life and ends up temporarily at the printing house, but it doesn’t work out, so he goes and has his own adventures, and more often than not, is the father in the next novel, trying to convince his son that the printer’s life is for him! While those sons wouldn’t have necessarily had those career opportunities if it wasn’t in the family, the expectation is still that they have to work for their money.

    I’m not sure how much I trust the Kent family anymore though. In the first novel, set during the 1770s, the first Kent takes a long ship voyage to the New World to get away from lots of family dramas in England. It seems that England had some yuge airports at the time and I’m really not sure why Phillipe put his mother through months at sea. The stupidity of some people is just beyond belief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha, Sue! Your second paragraph was hilarious! 🙂 🙂 Trump’s stupidly anachronistic remark about 1770s airports is the gift that keeps on giving!

      As is “The Kent Family Chronicles,” which, from your periodic descriptions of it, sounds like a great saga that’s relevant to various literature-related themes. Yes, sometimes nepotism is not that bad a thing.

      Like

      • Thinking of it as a gift is so delightful. I still get a chuckle out of Covfefe too. Maybe he’s not a bad sort after all. Just trying to keep us entertained. I am absolutely baffled by this latest one though. Or is it the latest? Has he said anything equally stupid in the last week? Fortunately, I think a lot of his stupidity gets missed in Australia. I only knew that The British Airways Are Coming because I saw it on PatD’s facebook. And a week later I’m still having trouble believing it. I get slips of the tongue, but his whole brain is slipping.

        I’ve really enjoyed my re-read of “The Kent Family Chronicles”. Gee it’s a commitment though as there are eight novels, and the ‘small’ ones are at least 600 pages. But they cover so much that they often do fit your weekly topics. And even if they don’t fit, I’m sure I can come up with some alternate facts to make them fit. So feel free to write about NASA and the space race next week, and I’ll mention the fifth novel which focuses on the Civil War, and how a family is split because the sons fought for the south, while the father went off and became an astronaut. Sheesh

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nah, Trump IS a bad sort, evil to the core and genuinely stupid, albeit perversely entertaining at times. “The British Airways Are Coming” — ha, ha! “I get slips of the tongue, but his whole brain is slipping” — yes!

          Rereading eight long novels is indeed a commitment, and very impressive. As are your very funny quips about alternate facts and 1860s astronauts! “Star Trek: The Civil War Generation”…

          Like

  6. I can’t think of a book other than “The Godfather” either. I don’t know if “The Lion in Winter” was first a book, but the movie is chock full of nepotism, and cut-throat nepotism at that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat! Wikipedia says “The Lion in Winter” was originally a play, so that’s literature enough for me. 🙂 I never saw the movie, but it does sound VERY nepotistic, with all that royal succession stuff.

      And, yes, “The Godfather”!

      Like

  7. I recently read a novel called “American Pop” (which I also mentioned on your article about twin siblings in literature) which is a fictional story about an iconic soda company and the family’s rise to fame and fortune. The son who takes over the company is a bit of a spoiled brat and ends up running it into the ground. It was made extra sad by the fact that he unseated a very capable daughter who ran it until he was old enough, and who was well educated and had a better mind for it than he did. Which brings me to another note related to this topic – the frustrating stories that unfold when women (who are just as capable and sometimes even more so) are kicked to the background to make way for male heirs. This is a fairly prominent theme in the show “Downton Abby,” which my husband and I have been binge watching lately, as well as one of my favorite books ever, “Pride and Prejudice” (I mean come on, Mr. Collins is a joke!). Another book I just read lately, “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante, makes many heartbreaking mentions of spoiled sons taking over the family businesses in their small town in Italy, and really making a mess of things in both their business and marital lives. A great topic, Dave! One that really grinds me gears in both literature and real life, as I’m sure you might have noticed hahaha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.! A GREAT point that sexism is sadly often a major subtext of nepotism, as was the case in “American Pop” and other titles you mentioned. Also the case in “Dombey and Son” (as my post discussed), in George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss” (in which Maggie is much smarter than brother Tom), etc. I can totally understand gears being grinded over women’s abilities wasted so much in patriarchal societies (i.e., virtually every society).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, nepotism *does* work out for the characters in “One for the Money”! This isn’t a novel, and I haven’t actually read it, but my dad recently read an in-depth biography of Nicholas II, Kaiser Wilhelm, and King George (can’t remember what numbers Wilhelm and George were), the respective monarchs of Russia, Germany, and Britain in the lead-up to WWI, and all cousins. He found it fascinating and came away with the conviction that monarchy was a crazy system for choosing rulers, since so many hereditary monarchs turn out to be completely unsuited for rule, if not outright insane. Nicholas was a nice man but a terrible ruler, but he believed that his every action was mandated by God.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Elena! Nice that there’s good nepotism once in a while. 🙂 And Stephanie Plum, to her credit, certainly has a rather jaundiced view of her cousin Vinnie despite the one favor he reluctantly did for her.

      Yes, the succession scenarios of monarchs rarely end well. A sick system of ruling. At least some of today’s monarchies, such as the UK one, are largely ceremonial.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I was feeling stumped again, Dave, so I’ll have to go with “The Godfather,” though I remember the movies more than the book. I had a friend in college who lived in my dorm that liked to act out the main characters in books she read. The first I remember was “In This House of Brede,” for which she walked around with hands in a prayerful manner, blessing everyone. After that it was “The Godfather,” which had her telling people she’d have contracts put out on them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! That college friend of yours sounds rather interesting and quirky. 🙂

      “The Godfather” is an excellent example of a novel with nepotism. I read it many years ago, after seeing the iconic movie, and found it pretty absorbing — and pretty disturbing, of course.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s