(The Heir of Redclyffe was published in 1853, but this is the 1882 edition with illustrations by Kate Greenaway.)
One of the reasons I found The Heir of Redclyffe so engrossing was that I disliked Philip Morville so much. He's such a well-drawn character: his role in the story is that of the villain, but he isn't really villainous, just arrogant and condescending and snobbish. (Oh, and he calls Dickens "cheap rubbish," and he dismisses Le Morte d'Arthur as being for children only. Grrrr.) He's basically decent, though, and he doesn't really mean to do the awful things he does. I could imagine him being the friend of a friend -- someone could like him, but I couldn't. I loved the scene where Philip's cousin Guy, the hero of the book, is telling a story, and Philip interrupts him with a Latin tag, a quotation from Horace -- because Philip is exactly the kind of person who would interrupt someone else's story with a Latin tag -- and when Guy caps Philip's quotation with the next line from the Horace poem, Guy mispronounces a Latin vowel, and Philip freaks out. It's the word "ovium" ("of the sheep"), and Guy says "ah-vium" instead of "oh-vium," to which Philip says, horrified, "Do anything but take liberties with Horace!" This is hilarious because it's a ridiculously small mistake, and I would be so impressed if any of my students could quote Horace like Guy. But Guy's pronunciation reveals that he hasn't had an aristocratic education at a private school, and that's what horrifies Philip. Ugh, Philip.
(Look at Guy's sad eyes in this Kate Greenaway illustration! How can Philip be so terrible to him?)
I liked Guy Morville, and I liked Amabel, who is underappreciated by her family and taught to think of herself as "silly little Amy," but who turns out to be secretly strong-minded. But my favorite character was Amy's brother Charles. I was surprised when I encountered Charles, because he seemed so familiar to me. It was like seeing a beloved actor in a new role. And then I realized that I knew Charles because he must have been the inspiration for Aubrey Lanyon in my favorite Georgette Heyer romance, Venetia. There are some differences between the two, but both Aubrey and Charles are bookish invalids who suffer from "a disease of the hip-joint" (that's a quotation from both Heyer and Yonge). Both have a cutting wit, and both tyrannize over their sisters. And even though Aubrey and Charles are fundamentally selfish, I can't help liking them both. Charles makes me happy every time he deflates Philip's pompousness with one of his jokes.
(Guy doing some gardening.)
I was glad that I read Sintram and His Companions before I read The Heir of Redclyffe, because the story of Sintram informs the whole novel. Guy Morville admits that he is "foolish about Sintram," and that he sees himself as the title character. Sintram is the Viking prince who is followed through his life by two terrifying figures, an impish little man in a pointy hat, who turns out to be Sin, and a pale old man dressed in bones, who turns out to be Death. Guy identifies with Sintram so much because he too is fighting against his own sinful nature, struggling against his family's violent past, and trying to make his peace with death. Charlotte Yonge even recasts some scenes from Sintram in The Heir of Redclyffe: a storm at sea, a melancholy Christmas spent in solitary meditation, the separation of the main character from his true love. I do think it's a little strange that Guy keeps referring to the woman he loves as "my Verena." Verena is not Sintram's true love; she's his mother. I mean, I know Guy is talking about Verena's saintly influence on Sintram, but still.
(Verena, illustrated by Gordon Browne.)
Like Sintram, The Heir of Redclyffe is a sad story. But Sintram is more of a gloomy fantasy, while The Heir of Redclyffe is a tragedy. I did cry over it, just like Jo March. But I loved it, and I'm hoping to read more books by Charlotte Yonge in 2013. (The Clever Woman of the Family is on my bedside table right now.)