Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Yonge

I wanted to read this book because I enjoyed Yonge's historical novel The Dove In The Eagle's Nest, which was a lovely medieval story full of interesting historical details. Sadly, unlike that book, this one succumbs to all the worst excesses of ladylike Victorian piety: apparently a secret engagement is a sin and dishonour on the level of burglary or passing bad cheques, that kind of thing. And then there's the fact that it takes a third of the book to reach anything like a plot, which peters out again after another third.

The story--set during the author's time--follows the Edmonstone family and their two Morville cousins. The cousins are from two different branches of the Morville family, which have been enemies for years. The story kicks off when Sir Guy Morville, as a teenager whose grandfather has recently died, comes to live with his guardian Mr Edmonstone, Mrs Edmonstone, all the young Edmonstones, and Phillip Morville, the other cousin. The feud has been dormant for years and Phillip Morville--the most thoroughgoing prig in the canon of Western literature--is hardly one to stir it up again. He merely settles in, unconsciously, to make Guy's life thoroughly miserable. That's pretty much the whole story.

From the very beginning Sir Guy seems a little too perfect to be true. The words "too good for this world" are actually applied to him with no irony at all. So are the words "Sir Galahad". And his Dramatic Flaw--a terrible temper--is so underused as a tragic, fatal flaw that it might as well not exist: he battles it conscientiously and with such great success that he might not have it at all.

And it all wraps up with one of those excruciatingly long, drawn-out Victorian Deathbed Scenes, where you know, you know the person is going to die, and to save yourself from a broken heart, you begin to emotionally detach yourself from the character, so when they do eventually keel over your response is to yawn politely and hope the author will wrap it up soon without too much detail of the funeral.

Although I personally didn't enjoy The Heir of Redclyffe much, I do think Yonge is a capable and worthwhile writer, and you might find this worth reading. If you enjoy Louisa May Alcott's tamer works, or the Elsie Dinsmore series, or if Uncle Tom's Cabin didn't make you laugh, even a little tiny bit, then you might enjoy this book. It isn't a bad novel; it's quite good as far as it goes; but it did try my patience.

Gutenberg etext

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