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The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

The Inheritance (edition 1997)

by Louisa May Alcott

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6582114,612 (3.42)24
Title:The Inheritance
Authors:Louisa May Alcott
Info:Dutton Juvenile (1997), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 160 pages
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The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott



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Strange to think that this was not published until a century and a half Louisa's death. Impressive to think that she was just 17 when she hand-wrote this in her red book before she became famous.

I liked this much more than I expected to. I didn't have high hopes when bearing in mind Louisa's young age and her keeping the novel quiet because either she or someone she trusted thought it weak. Glad to be proved wrong.

The story isn't one with twists and turns, murder and mayhem, but is essentially a portrait of how a group of rich people live from day to day, plus how governess Edith - the main character - fits into the heart of their lives and her charitable actions for the poor.

There is some moralistic preaching evident throughout the narrative but it's not sickly-sweet or forced down your throat.

The characters are all aptly portrayed. Although Edith is somewhat too good to be true, I don't think this spoils anything. I found this character very endearing.

I also like Lord Percy. He's the epitome of what makes a good gentleman. He makes some of the most eloquent speeches in the book. It's a shame in some respects that the English-speaking world converse so very differently to how out nineteenth-century ancestors did.

Overall, Miss Alcott's first novel was a pleasant read. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Mar 3, 2015 |
Edith Adelon is comfortably provided for by her beloved friends, the Hamiltons, who, though she was but a lowly Italian orphan when they discovered her, have treated her with kindness and generosity beyond what she could have hoped. The two young Hamiltons, Amy and Arthur, treat her as a beloved sister, and Lady Hamilton, though not as warm as her children, expresses a degree of affection which she deems stately. The only member of the household who dislikes Edith is Cousin Ida who, scheming and ambitious herself, detests Edith’s gentle, artless kindness.

When Lord Percy arrives, Ida’s passive dislike for Edith develops to outright hatred. A selfless, noble man himself, he is attracted to Edith’s character and awards her with his interest despite Ida’s constant attempts to capture him for herself. When Frederick Arlington arrives and is also captivated by Edith, who finds his heavy-handed attention oppressive, Ida’s rage heats to a boiling point.

Will Edith’s character be destroyed by Ida’s machinations? And when the secret of Edith’s birth becomes known, will she be accepted for who she is?


Quite by accident, I managed to read The Inheritance the day after I finished William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The contrast between the two could not have been more striking. One was a masterful exposition of the deep horrors of human nature, forged in fire and written with rapier skill. The other is an effusion of sentimental melodrama, bred on cotton candy and carnations and written with the clumsy hand of an obvious amateur. One examined the depth of human depravity while the other boasted characters whose only thoughts were those of angelic purity. Reading the two back to back was like stepping out of an oven into a refrigerator. Simply shocking.

Louisa May Alcott wrote this novel when she was seventeen. I think it likely that her young age combined with her lack of experience as a writer, love of melodrama, and transcendentalist ideals are responsible for the simplistic characters she created in The Inheritance. Because that is the single adjective which describes every element of the story – simplicity. Simplicity in plot. Simplicity in theme. And strongest of all, simplicity in character.

Edith is beautiful, dark-haired, and pale faced, “with an angel’s calm and almost holy beauty, [she] bore within as holy and as pure a heart – gentle, true, and tender. Few could bear the burden of a lonely life as patiently as she.” [pg. 14] Her bright eyes often fill with tears at the kindness or meanness of others, and she inspires instant admiration in all who see her. She is described as “one who bore so meekly all the sorrows that must try a gentle heart and was so rich in pure and sinless feelings and so beautiful in all a woman’s noblest gifts.” [pg. 90]

Lord Percy is a selfless, melancholic nobleman who, “careless of the wealth and honor that might be his, he prized far more the purity and worth of noble human hearts, little noting whether they beat in high or low.” He spends most of his time admiring Edith’s unquenchable virtues and defending or pitying her when anyone is unkind to her. Formerly disappointed in love (Upon discovering that his younger brother loved the same woman as he “he nobly put away his own joy and strove to win for his younger brother the heart he so tenderly loved himself.”), he soon develops a “most holy love” for Edith, yet forbears from proposing to her lest he “should wrong the friendship she so frankly gave [him] if [he] could pain her by vain offers of a love she never could return and by rank and riches that cannot buy a noble woman’s heart.” [pg. 122] Also, “His calm, pale face and serious eyes are far more beautiful than mere comeliness and grace of form, for the pure, true heart within shines clearly out and gives quiet beauty to his face, such as few possess.” [g. 8] (Added bonus, he is also “tender as a woman”.)

Lady Ida, the only truly evil character, is beautiful, brilliant, proud, cold, and unmarried. With a hilarious lack of self-deception, she admits to Edith that she hates her because “You [Edith] are young and lovely, and in spite of poverty and humble birth, you win respect and admiration from those above you.” When she perceives that Lord Percy and Frederick Arlington both admire Edith, she attempts to disparage Edith’s character with a degree of clumsiness that befits a half-grown puppy. Her disdainful dislike for Edith is so unskillfully displayed that everyone is able to see through her schemes and thus do not fall for them.

Frederick Arlington is “selfish, passionate, discontented” and unreasonably attracted to Edith’s selfless, meek, and unassuming character. His selfish behavior consists of paying her unwanted attentions, bending admiring glances toward her blushing face, and declaring his love to her when she does not wish to hear it. But even he feels “the passion in his breast grow calm beneath the light of” Lord Percy’s “sad, earnest eyes,” and he “[feels] deeply all the sorrow he had given and the tears his selfish passion caused [Edith]”.

Amy and Arthur are both amiable to a child-like degree. They, both beautiful and intelligent, are themselves happy and cannot imagine why anyone else would not be. They look upon Edith as a sister, and the only times their anger is roused is when someone slights Edith.

None of the characters undergo any kind of character development (except Arlington – he realizes he’s annoying). But, if you think about it, there was no way they could have grown – could Edith progress beyond angelic calm and holy beauty? Could Percy, of whom it is said “few could lead so pure a life as he”, really get any better? The answer is “no” and so our characters, instead of overcoming interesting faults, instead must sadly bear the faults of Lady Ida and Arlington.

In fact, Alcott went so overboard in making Edith perfectly self-sacrificial, that she actually made her contradictory. In one scene, after Lady Ida has declared her hatred in response to Edith’s plea for friendship, Edith responds,

I have no other home but this and no friends to take me in or, much as I love Amy, I would leave her and trouble you no more.” Edith said sadly. [pg. 60]

So, Edith just said she would leave Amy if another home was offered her right? Right. Fast forward eight pages to the moment that rich Lord Percy asks her to live as a companion with his aging mother and this is what we get.

Edith, while the bright tears lay upon her cheek, answered sadly, “I am deeply grateful for this kindness, and were it not for Amy and the love and gratitude I owe her, I would gladly be to your mother as a faithful, loving child.” [pg. 68]

In both situations Edith professed the most self-sacrificial attitude available. But in doing so, she contradicted herself with selfless-ness!

Also difficult to comprehend is Lady Hamilton’s attitude when money is stolen from her and Edith is accused of being the thief. Lady Hamilton says that she regards Edith as “a friend to whom I owe a debt that I never can repay and, as a small return for the precious life she saved, I shall do all I can to make her happy.” [pg. 58] But when evidence provided by Lady Ida seems to indicate that that Edith is the thief, Lady Hamilton says,

Yes, Edith, you have sinned past my forgiveness. You have forfeited my love, my confidence, and my protection, for, in return for years of warm affection and most watchful care, you have repaid me by deceit and great ingratitude.” [pgs. 150-151]

When Edith protests that she did not steal the money, but she cannot tell who she believes did steal it (a bit of stupidity on her part, I grant), Lady Hamilton responds.

I can no longer give a home to one who thinks a promise given to screen guilt more binding than the gratitude of years.” [pg. 157]

But later, when a servant admits to stealing the money, Lady Hamilton says,

My poor boy, I do forgive you, led astray by others whom you trusted. ‘Tis an easy thing to sin. Your youth and your repentance have won my pardon.” [pg. 164]

So, let me get this straight. When Ida, whom everyone knows hates Edith, provides evidence against a beloved member of your household, you accept her testimony and prepare to evict the beloved member without mercy, but when an insignificant servant boy admits to the same crime, you graciously forgive and excuse him? Good GRACIOUS.

I may sound like I’m coming down too hard on this story. The truth is, it’s harmless enough for young readers who want a bit of fairy tale fluff. But it just doesn’t have the vim to be considered classic literature.

Conclusion. Good for those interested in the works of Louisa May Alcott or for those looking for “safe”, sinless literature.

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www.blitheringbookster.com ( )
  LauraKathryn | Nov 4, 2014 |
Based on book by Louisa May Alcott
  WVBC | Sep 1, 2014 |
I think this was published much more as an oddity. It was written when Alcott was just 17 and is a rather one dimensional sentimental tale of a poor orphan who wins hearts by her great kindness. She is really far too good to be interesting and most of the rest of the charactors are similiarly undefined. It's not bad but not really enjoyable either. I'll probably BookCross it.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
A charming first novel handwritten by Louisa May Alcott in 1849 when only seventeen and discovered via the card catalogue of Houghton Library at Harvard University summer 1988 while researching a project to complete the narration of her life.

A wonderful discovery and worthy of reading just for the insight into a life of historical import. As Ms Alcott had penned, " I want to do something splendid... something heroic or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead... I think I shall write books."

Here is her first...
( )
  FHC | Jun 13, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Louisa May Alcottprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Myerson, JoelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shealy, DanielEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In a green park, where troops of bright-eyed deer lay sleeping under drooping trees and a clear lake mirrored in its bosom the flowers that grew upon its edge, there stood Lord Hamilton's stately home, half castle and half mansion.
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Set in an English country manor, the story follows the turbulent fortunes of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan whose loyalty and beauty win her the patronage of wealthy friends until a jealous rival contrives to rob her of her position. In the locket around her neck, she carries a deep secret about her natural birthright.… (more)

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