I just finished two novels by Louisa May Alcott. Surprisingly, neither one was Little Women. Both A Long Fatal Love Chase and The Inheritance were originally unpublished works until the 1990’s. However, these two novels by the creator of the March family could not be more different from each other. I had never realized just how many voices Alcott possessed, the first one written in the genre of thriller and the second one had many of the tropes of an Austen work. Although neither one would stand as her best work, this reading experience definitely helped further my appreciation of this author.
18. A Long Fatal Love Chase
Two years before the publication of Little Women, Alcott wrote this tale of Gothic suspense in order to save herself from financial hardships. Upon completion, it was rejected by her publishers who deemed it “too sensational.” It remained unpublished until 1995 when it became a posthumous bestseller. While reading this novel, I couldn’t help but think that Alcott would be penning those insane suspense thrillers you see on Lifetime. Chase often feels like one of those, albeit with much less sex. Compared to today’s suspense thrillers, this one is actually fairly tame. After finishing this book, I realized that I had quite a bit of fun reading it and couldn’t stop turning the pages until I reached the end.
Here is the plot. Rosamond Vivian is a young adult woman stuck living with her cranky grandfather on a remote island off the coast of England. She hates the boredom of it all and dreams of a life of adventure. Her desperation is evident as she states:
“I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.”
Right on cue, a handsome older stranger named Philip Tempest enters her life, and Rosamond is quickly seduced with his promises of love and excitement. The two lovebirds are hastily married and run away together on Philip’s yacht. After settling down in a countryside town in Nice, the young woman feels that all her dreams have come true. Then, Rosamond learns that Philip has a dark secret and may not be so nice a guy after all. As it turns out, their marriage is built on nothing but lies and deceit. After learning the shocking truth, the young woman makes her escape. Philip loves Rosamond in his own twisted way and is not planning to just let her go. Thus, a great chase begins across Europe where Rosamond takes up many different careers and alias to escape her murderous bastard of a husband.
Despite my initial dislike and my eye rolling with the initial chapters, I became quite hooked on this insane love story. Alcott was smart enough to end each chapter on a little cliffhanger, so of course I had to read the next one to see what would happen next. This is a book that is firmly embedded in the tradition of Gothic love stories and suspense thrillers. Alcott does turn this story into something beautiful with its interesting European locations as Rosamond finds herself in one desperate situation after the next with Philip and his criminal servant Baptiste lurking around every corner. Just when you think the heroine has escaped, here comes the bad guy. Talk about not taking no for an answer!
Philip Tempest is a very unlikable character. I often found myself becoming annoyed at how he continued to plague poor Rosamond. As I thought about this story more, I realized that Alcott created a perfect allegory for the abusive relationship. Having known several people in these types of relationships, I understand the difficulty of every truly being free from your abuser. Sadly, I’ve seen several victims continue to go back to their tormentor again and again. Some of them never escape. I recognized this while reading as Rosamond struggles throughout the novel to be free of Philip once and for all. Although she demonstrates both bravery and tenacity, I would often grit my teeth as she would sometimes consider giving in to him. Unfortunately, this is true to life. Alcott manages to balance the darkness of human nature with some truly beautiful writing. Considering the increase in literature relating to abusive relationships, it appears as though Alcott was ahead of her time.
One flaw I found in the book is the lack of strong character development. It can be argued that Alcott demonstrated a strong female lead with the character of Rosamond, but the other characters often fell flat for me. I think the trick is to remember that this was written as a sensational piece of literature, so it’s more about enjoying the ride rather than exploring deeply introspective characters.
With the title being A Long Fatal Love Chase, you can form suspicions regarding how this journey will end. I was actually surprised by the ending and wonder if this was one of the reasons for its rejection. Today’s suspense thrillers wouldn’t have ended the way Alcott’s book did. Love it or hate it, I actually found it quite brave as perhaps it summed up the theme on toxic relationships to which I discussed a moment ago. Let’s move on to a work that isn’t quite as dark.
“He was the first, the only love her life, and in a nature like hers such passions take deep root and die-hard.”
19. The Inheritance
Although I read this one next, The Inheritance was actually written first. In fact, Alcott penned this Victorian sensation novel when she was only 17 years old. Despite not being the best writing ever, I have to remember that I couldn’t have penned anything like this at such a young age. As I mentioned before, Inheritance often reminded my of Jane Austen. There’s romance, a failed attempt by one of the characters at romance, and quite a few comedy of errors. Naturally, everything comes together nicely at the end which would not necessarily be true to life. But hey, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy Austen so I’m fine with it.
This story is about Edith Adelon, a poor orphan girl who was taken in years ago by the wealthy Hamilton family. Although the father has long passed away, Edith has served as teacher and companion to the daughter Amy who lives in the home with her brother Arthur, their mother, and cousin Ida. The children are all adults now, and Edith has become quite close to both Amy and Arthur. Edith is loved by everyone because of her charm, virtue, and beauty. However, all is not wonderful as Ida’s jealousy fuels her determination to undo Edith by any means necessary. Edith has a secret of her own as a long lost letter reveals a shocking birthright as well as the inheritance of the books’ title.
Inheritance falls in the vein of the sentimental novel, a work which tends to evoke strong emotions of love and sentiment. I got very tired continuing to read lines about how Edith is “poor” but “virtuous.” We are reminded every few pages about how “good” Edith is despite being “poor.” It got a tad annoying. Don’t expect a lot of deep characterization here, from any of the characters. Even Ida as the villain didn’t really have much in the way of depth. A few dramatic events occur, but they are fairly minor to a work like Alcott’s later Chase. We get our happy ending, teaching us that goodness and virtue triumph over darkness and evil. Then again, these guys never had to deal with Philip Tempest!
This year I’m participating in Back to the Classics Challenge 2017. I liked how both of these books showed two very different sides to romance. Chase is a dark twisted tale of love gone wrong, while Inheritance is a Victorian fairy tale story. So I’m placing this review as my entry for the classic romance, representing both its good and bad sides.
“A long night and a happy day had passed. All had been told…”
Have you read either of these books? Please comment below.