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The Heir by Vita Sackville-West
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The Heir by Vita Sackville-West

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One of our Bloggers Books of the Month for March

Recommended by Stuck in a Book

Nowadays, if anybody has heard of Vita Sackville-West, it’s usually as ‘that woman who had an affair with Virginia Woolf’. While their relationship is doubtless interesting, it does a disservice to forget that Sackville-West was herself a writer of some talent – especially in this little gem of a novella, The Heir.

Under a hundred pages long, The Heir still manages to pack in an awful lot. Vita wrote it as a kind of catharsis after being (as a woman) unable to inherit her palatial family home Knole – which allegedly has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, and 7 courts. Goodness knows where they sleep in a leap year. In The Heir, Mr. Chase inherits Blackboys from a distant and elderly relative, a sizeable house and grounds replete with servants and peacocks and such-like. There is debt which needs paying off, and Chase intends to sell the house as soon as possible, as well as all the tithed cottages and land. Benign Mr. Farebrother and officious Mr. Nutley act as the estate agents, chivvying him along towards an auction – but as Chase gets to know Blackboys, and the various people who live in the area, he falls deeper in love with the house and his legacy. 
‘There was by now no angle from which he was not familiar with the house, whether he considered the dreamy roofs from the crest of the hill or the huddle of the murrey-coloured buildings from across the distance of the surrounding pastures[…] No window glittered but he could name the room it lit.’
The climax of the novella comes at the auction – will Chase choose to secure Blackboys for himself; will he even be able to? The subtitle to The Heir is ‘A Love Story’ – by this point of the story, the reader is longing for Chase and his house to be reunited, much more than most authors manage to provoke for their romantic couples. But it isn’t remotely schmaltzy, not in Sackville-West’s capable hands and brilliant, beautiful writing.
The novel was published in 1922, a limited edition of only 100 copies. Thankfully that wasn’t its final fate – it could no better than being treated to one of Hesperus Press’ beautiful editions. Though short, it is a perfect length for the story, and eminently re-readable (I’ve read it three times in a year). The Heir is honest and witty and touching and, above all, good.

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