Monday, February 11, 2013

The Inheritance

by Louisa May Alcott
   On my review of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Laura asked me if I had ever read Alcott's early work The Inheritance. I hadn't, but I had wanted to for the past year or so. The only time I tried to order it from my local library system I hadn't been able to find it, and so was under the impression that it wasn't available. Fast forward to January 2013 when Becca Anne informed me that the library did have it. . . . It required a little searching on my part, but eventually I did lay the order and was able to read it.
   Edith Adelon is a poor Italian orphan who was adopted by Lord Hamilton of the British Hamilton estate. She is gifted with beauty and a "rich" singing voice and is governess to sixteen-year-old Lady Amy Hamilton. She is forever grateful for the kindness bestowed upon her, and only wants love as reward for her constant kindness and toil. In spite of the Hamilton cousin Lady Ida's passionate envy of Edith's beauty and talents, she finds a friend in the visitor Lord Percy, who proves to be a true gentleman. Suddenly, a valuable inheritance lands on her lap, and she has only to claim it. But will she?
   It's a little hard in this review to give special paragraph criticism to the plot, the characters, and the writing style, because the book is extremely short and not much can be said of it--only 147 pages in Penguin Classics, with the line spacing at least 1.5, and the type fairly large. So I'm just going to hammer out unmercifully everything I see wrong with it, and then point out a few reasons that I think you should read it.
   First of all, the plot itself needs a load of work. Practically as soon as he arrives in the story, you know who the hero is going to be. The emptiness of the storyline is further enhanced by the sadly crafted characters. Edith is in every respect gorgeous, and absolutely perfect. Lord Percy is little different, as are Lady Amy and Lord Arthur; the only character with a semi-realistic personality is Lady Hamilton, who masks her tenderness under a hide of ice. Lady Ida is bad all through, unable to keep promises and hatefully avenging herself on innocent Edith. (In fact, Lady Ida was one of the most interesting points in the book!) Oh, and Lord Percy's personality is almost womanly. Sorry to say that, but I didn't find him a very dynamic character and he certainly does not fulfill my expectations of a romantic suitor. (Probably completely erroneous on my part . . . I'm too much of a romantic.) And then the writing style. Her most-used word in the entire book is the word "pure," which I soon tired of (to say the least!). Every time she describes Edith, she uses it; sometimes when she describes Lord Percy, she uses it. I read an excellent post by Hayden which mentioned this point: If you have something attractive to say about a character, only say it once--we get the picture. But Alcott says it over and over and over again. Very near the beginning of the book my hackles went up and I cried out to Mom, "This is terrible! She is not letting the characters tell the story." Enough said, right?
   So, Laura was right when she said I should forgive Alcott some of her faults. She was only seventeen at the time, most likely did not have the knowledge many of the writers nowadays have (even writers younger than she was--a truly aspiring writer will, in my opinion, study up on the subject), and she may not have done much writing before. This book may never have gone beyond a first draft--in fact, since it was written in 1847 and not published for 150 years, it seems a good guess that it never did.
   As for why you should read this book: First of all, it's written by an author of classics. Second of all, it will expand your reading horizons. Third of all, it is not totally without hope. I was--I admit it!--somehow smitten, and vicious Lady Ida was not wholly the reason for it. I'm not sure exactly what it was that struck me, but I wanted to read it more than I did The Lord of the Rings (okay, that could be justified by the fact that I know that story very very well and have already read it three times). And fourth and last of all, I don't believe anyone could find a moral fault with this book. Lady Ida's hatred may deter some, but Edith's lovely spirit ought to tug them back again. This would have a fine audience in girls ten and older (if you want them to read romances). If you decide to read it based on this review, or have already read it, tell me what you think and if you agree with me, or if you think I was completely off. Sometimes I can have some pretty strong opinions. . . .

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