A pure heart is worth more than gold, and true love is shown through kindness and selflessness. That is the message of The Inheritance. Written at the tender age of 17, Louisa May Alcott's first novel was not published until 1997, after it was rediscovered in Harvard's Houghton Library by two scholars working on her letters. A story of love and virtue, passion and betrayel, it has since become almost as well loved as her more famous works, and gives us a glimpse into the mind of a brilliant writer in the flower of her youth.
Edith Adelon is a beautiful, yet gentle Italian orphan who was adopted by the wealthy Hamilton family as a young child and taken to live on their English estate as a companion to their young daughter Amy. As she grows, her tender love and pure heart endear her to those around her, especially Amy and her brother Arthur.
One summer, the Hamilton house welcomes the arrival of two young men, the dashing and passionate Lord Arlington and the noble and kind Lord Percy. Both men are captivated by Edith's beauty and kindness and pursue her through different means, much to the chagrin of Lady Ida, a cousin of the Hamiltons. Lady Ida constantly seeks to make Edith's life miserable and to snub her for her lack of rank and wealth. Finally, Lady Ida devises a plan to disgrace Edith forever and have her banished from the Hamilton estate. Now the only thing that can save Edith is a long-kept secret that will shed light on her past and make it possible for her to accept the love of the man her heart desires.
My Review (Caution-Spoilers):
Though The Inheritance lacks the depth and scope of Alcott's later novels, it is nonetheless a pleasing story, especially for one written by a 17 year old. As in many of Alcott's other novels, the virtues of honesty, fidelity, trust and self-sacrifice appear as the main themes and each character plays a part in bringing these themes to life.
Edith's two suitors contrast each other very well and show how kindness often wins against passion and vanity. Lord Arlington loves Edith for her beauty and gentelness, yet it is a selfish love that seeks only its own gratification. He often says and does things that openly declare his love and doesn't care if they make Edith uncomfortable or not. Lord Percy, on the other hand, is a complete opposite. While he does love Edith, he has a true love that will not allow him to openly hurt her by declaring a love for her that she feels she must not accept. Instead, he shows his love for her by simply being kind and helping her in all of the charitable work that she does in the community.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us the nature of true love: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
So often in today's world we mistake emotion and selfishness for true love. We mistake the copy for the original. The Inheritance offers a glimpse into what true love really is, and that it's worth truly is above all material things.
The Inheritance was made into a film for television in 1997. It stars Cari Shayne as Edith and the handsome Thomas Gibson as Percy. The setting is changed to Massachusets in the mid to late 1800s, so titles are dropped and a small subplot of equality for women is added. This makes Edith's initial refusal of Percy kind of weird since class wasn't quite as strict then as it was in England. But overall, this is a great introduction to this classic story and is entertaining for those who have and also those who haven't read the book. Good acting, great scenery, and an enchanting plot make this a wonderful film for everyone.
Note: This film is available in both a complete and a "family-edited version". I own the edited version and there is an obvious scene missing from it. Having not seen the complete version, I do not know what was considered "objectional" about the missing scene.