I was supposed to be writing about Kristin Lavransdatter today – it was the book chosen for me in the last Classics Club Spin and today is the deadline for reading it – but there’s been a change of plan. For the last few weeks I’ve been engrossed in a completely different classic novel, so Kristin has had to wait. I’ve started reading it at last (and like what I’ve read so far) but for today, I’m going to talk instead about The Heir of Redclyffe.
When the elderly Sir Guy Morville dies, his title and his estate of Redclyffe pass to his grandson, another Guy. Being only seventeen years old, the new Sir Guy is taken in by another branch of the family, the Edmonstones, who provide him with a home and an education. With his generous, warm-hearted nature, Guy quickly wins the respect of Mr and Mrs Edmonstone, the friendship of three of his cousins – Charles (crippled with a disease in the hip), the beautiful Laura, and little Charlotte – and the love of the fourth, Amabel (known as Amy). In fact, the only person who doesn’t seem to like Guy is Philip Morville, another cousin.
To Guy’s dismay, Philip – who happens to be the next heir to Redclyffe – makes no secret of his dislike for him. Philip is a well-educated, confident and accomplished young man, and based on a long-ago family rivalry, is determined to disapprove of Guy, finding fault with everything he does. After Guy and Amy declare their love for each other, Philip decides to do everything he can to put a stop to their marriage. Meanwhile, he himself has fallen in love with Amy’s sister, Laura, but due to his financial situation he is reluctant to make their romance public and so he asks Laura to keep their relationship secret from her parents.
And that’s really all I want to say about the story, as it does become quite convoluted and I wouldn’t want to spoil things for future readers. I knew very little about this novel before I started it (although I remember that Lisa enjoyed it a few years ago) and part of the pleasure in reading it was wondering how things would turn out for Guy and Amy, Philip and Laura, and the others. Yonge took me completely by surprise once or twice with some plot developments that I hadn’t expected, one of which was very sad – although I would have been prepared for that if only I’d remembered that in Little Women, Jo March is found “eating apples and crying over The Heir of Redclyffe”!
I liked Guy – it would probably be difficult not to – and I also liked Amabel, although it irritated me that she is always referred to (by herself and others) as ‘silly little Amy’ when it’s obvious that she has far more sense and strength of character than anybody gives her credit for. I never felt that I really knew or understood Laura, but as for Philip, I found him completely annoying, arrogant and overbearing. He’s not a villain exactly (there are no villains in this book – only flawed human beings) and he does seem to believe that he’s acting with the best intentions, but those actions cause a lot of unnecessary misery for a lot of people. My favourite character, though, was probably Charles, one of the few people prepared to stand up to Philip and say what he thinks, while also trying to come to terms with his own illness and disability.
First published in 1853, The Heir of Redclyffe was a popular bestseller throughout the 19th century, yet how many people still read this book today? It seems that Charlotte Mary Yonge’s novels haven’t stood the test of time as well as books by other female Victorian authors, which is a shame as I found a lot to like about The Heir of Redclyffe. Maybe it’s too sentimental for modern tastes and with too much emphasis on faith and spirituality – not that any of those things stopped me from enjoying this book. I would definitely consider reading more of Yonge’s work in the future!