A novella about a man who, upon inheriting an estate from a distant relative, decides he should sell the place, but as the date of the auction approaches he finds himself reluctant to let it go. 1922.
This novella centers around a plot device I know many readers of older books enjoy: a nice, unsuspecting person discovers they have been left a big house by some distant great aunt or uncle.
The Heir begins with this setup, but then takes it a step further: will the unsuspecting heir sell the house and land piecemeal (it has many debts, after all, and has become a trifle run-down)? Or, as the reader fervently begins to hope, will the heir decide to keep the place? Better yet: move in, leave behind that London career-life, and take up the yoke of the landholder gentry?
At first, it seems like Mr. Chase, heir to Blackboys, will simply sell the place lock, stock, and barrel, then get back to his ordinary life as an insurance salesman. The estate solicitor certainly wants him to do this. The solicitor, in fact, seems quite eager for the place to be sold—never mind that all of the tenants on the land will be turned out.
Chase sets the wheels in motion for the sale, then returns to his work at “the office.” Seemingly, his life gets right back to where it was, with this whole Blackboys inheritance being nothing more than a quick diversion.
This book is subtitled “a love story,” though. Its charm is that it’s not a love story in sense that most stories are. The Heir is actually the story of a man falling in love with a place, a house, a community, an aesthetic, a lifestyle. And what I absolutely loved was that the reader sees this love unfolding, as Chase keeps coming back to visit Blackboys. Chase himself, however, seems oblivious to the meaning of his frequent and lengthy visits.
The question at this point becomes not will he sell his inheritance, but can he really let it go?
A bonus in this novella is how Chase develops relationship with his servants (which, yes, is sometimes portrayed in literature and period films), but also, much less frequently depicted, how he gets to know the tenants on his land. The tenants, depicted as generous and compassionate, nicely balance out that greedy, unfeeling solicitor. And then there’s Chase, in the middle, running out of time to realize whose side he’s on…
For anyone who has yet to read anything by Vita Sackville-West, let me just say this novella provides a great introduction. Sackville-West’s language is always lyrical, sensitive—the kind of language you delight in rolling around on your tongue.
Reminded me of:
- Other beloved Vita Sackville-West (All Passion Spent; The Edwardians)
- Virginia Woolf (Orlando)
- “Downton Abbey”; “Upstairs/Downstairs”
- Thomas Hardy (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) & Catherine Cookson (Tilly Trotter), for their bucolic depictions