Plot Summary: The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

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Louisa May Alcott is best known for her warm and welcoming novel Little Women. Years before she wrote this classic, she was toiling away on her first novel, which she called The Inheritance. It is a short book that can be digested easily in one sitting. It lacks the relatability of Little Women, but it is still lovely, especially when you take into account that Louisa was only 17 years old when she penned it in a notebook and left it to be found much later at the Houghton Library at Harvard.

The Inheritance is the story of a young girl named Edith Adelon. Edith was orphaned as a child and later taken in by an influential family as a companion and later a governess for their daughter. Edith is unbelievably pure and likeable. She is quite unrealistic but pleasant nonetheless. From the beginning, Louisa drops hints that there is more to Edith's history than meets the eye. She is described as unfailingly sweet yet burdened with sadness from the loss of a family she never knew.

Edith's only enemy is a bitterly jealous cousin of the Hamiltons (who had taken in Edith) named Ida. Ida also lives with the Hamiltons. Her family has a good name, but she herself is poor. She wants a wealthy husband to take her in but has had little success. She is not old, but she is afraid that she is getting too old to marry. She hates Edith for being young, beautiful and sweet. She envies every little attention that Edith gets from both males and females alike. Lady Ida may be the only truly believable character of the bunch.

A man named Lord Percy comes into their lives at the very start of the novel. He is much like Edith, unfailingly kind and fair. He too has a history, one that the reader is introduced to right from the start. He fell in love with a woman who his brother also loved. He hid his love and sacrificed his happiness so that his brother may be happy. The woman he loved and his brother are dead by the time The Inheritance begins, yet he is still alone. Lady Ida sees him as a target for her greedy affections and begrudges Edith his kindnesses. Lord Percy predictably falls in love with Edith and kindly dismisses Ida's attentions.

The story continues to be predictable. Ida is cruel to Edith and makes every attempt to destroy her reputation to no avail. Edith and Percy hide their love for each other until the very end. It turns out that Edith is actually quite rich and the Hamiltons quite poor, but she keeps things the same as they have been, apart from consenting to marry Lord Percy. In short, The Inheritance is everything you would expect from Louisa May Alcott. Even the villains are forgivable in the end. Everything works out for all parties and our heroine goes on to have the most delectably perfect marriage anyone has ever had. It is nice novel, despite the predictability and unrealistic plots of the author and the period.

Shelly Barclay

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