The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Yonge and abridged by Marian Schoolland, Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. 1952.
The scene of this story is laid in England a hundred or more years ago. The plot of the story concern’s itself with the Redclyffe Estate, which is left without an heir and the circumstances that lead to the rightful heir receiving his inheritance. It gives a view of the lives of two youthful cousins of the house of Morville. There had been a deadly feud between the two branches of this house and as the story opens, Philip Morville represents one side, while Sir Guy is the sole survivor of the other side. Although the feud is a thing of the past because both young men are Christians, there are still evidences of it in their lives as they touch one another in the fellowship of the Edmonstone family.
At Hollywell, the home of the Edmonstone’s, where Sir Guy comes to live as a ward of Mr. Edmonstone until the time that he is old enough to inherit the Redclyffe Estate, the entire family is impressed by the pleasant nature of this young man who is on the one hand helpful, kind, quiet and subdued, while on the other hand he is active, alert and sensitive. He has inherited the fiery nature of the Morville’s and consequently has a severe struggle with himself to conquer a vehement temper. His humility and .sincerity are, therefore, a manifestation of great spiritual strength.
Guy’s cousin Philip, on the other hand, is a haughty, domineering character who continually casts suspicion on the character and motives of Sir Guy and justifies his evil designs by claiming to have a genuine interest in his cousin’s well-being. Although in the course of the story Philip displays great strength of character he gives evidence of the fact that he is spiritually weak and wanting. When Philip finally perceives that Sir Guy returns good for evil and conquers wrong with right even to the point of sacrificing his life to save the life of one who has constantly wronged him, Philip is filled with remorse, shame and finally genuine sorrow.
In the fellowship of these two cousins with the Edmonstone family at Hollywell, one meets all the characters and characteristics of a typical Christian friendship. Since the members of the Edmonstone family are interesting and intelligent, they manifest a spirit of warmth, friendliness, understanding and loyalty that makes the relationship in every respect wholesome and stimulating. The double romance is natural and unaffected and each romance demonstrates in its own peculiar way the beauty of love, trust and devotion that is characteristic of ardent young lovers.
The weakness of this novel lies in the fact that it is a re-edition of a story originally written a century ago. The age of post-feudalism with its large estates of gentry and peasants reveals customs and ideas that are foreign to the lives of present-day young people. Such things as sharp distinction between classes of people, the educational system under tutor and by means of reading to one another, the contempt for gentry who have become poor and the branding of certain practices as grave sin will cause parts of the story to have little effect upon people of our time. The fact that the secret engagement of two of the characters is repeatedly spoken of as an offence may cause some people to lay the book aside with disgust. It is only when we realize that the plot is laid in the time of post-medieval history, that is, in a time when the authority of the parents was paramount, that we can understand why the act of pledging one’s affections before informing the parents was, to say the least, an insult to the parents. No doubt a little of the beauty of the original edition is lost in this condensation by Marian Schoolland. I felt at times that there were gaps in the story and wondered if this were not due to the abridgment of this edition.
The value of the book lies in the fact thot in everyday life the spiritual norm, “Render to no man evil for evil, but contrariwise blessing,” is held forth and practiced. Since practicing this norm is an intensely spiritual and, therefore, an unusually difficult task for any Christian, it is delightful to notice how the author develops that accomplishment in the main character of her story. Such Christian characteristics as self-abasement, confession of sin, a cry for mercy, a total absence of seeking revenge and self-justification are delicately woven into the story in such a way that the reader is stirred by them. This book is sound Christian fiction without being “preachy” as is the case with much of our modern evangelical fiction.