20th Century

Friday Reads: The Gentle Heritage

The Gentle Heritage is one of those early 20th century books that has fallen out of favour because its moralising and religious themes are no longer fashionable.

The Gentle Heritage with Frances E. Crompton

This is really a pity, because it’s actually a charming, delightful book, told with wit and imagination through the words of ‘Nell’, our small protagonist, still young enough to tell us:

“It was when we were all quite nursery children, a long time ago; two years since at the very least.”

Miss Fiss and I are thoroughly enjoying the book

Nell describes her siblings: bossy Patricia, the eldest, Bobby, her best friend and rival,  ‘tiresome’ Annis, and finally little Paul “who is sometimes very odd and obstinate”.  The children are the heart of the story, and they are so real, and engaging, that they easily carry what is, in essence, a very simple story indeed.

The book begins with their trials with Nurse, who feels they don’t play as proper children should, preferring instead to hold meetings under the nursery room table, complete with ‘notices’ and ‘chairs’.  Their favourite topic for the meetings is the dreaded ‘Bogey’, introduced by  ‘Mriar’ the maid as a means of keeping the children in line.

Who, and what Bogey is occupies much of the children’s time, and when a mysterious man moves next door, surely he must be Bogey?

The answer, is not, as an adult, that surprising, but the joy of the tale is in the development of characters, and the detailed description of nursery life in an upper-class British household at the turn of the last century: the fat rascal cakes and aprons torn in scrambles through the yew hedge.

The moral at the heart of the story, the moral that has sadly seen the book fall off the reading lists, is actually as true and relevant today as it was almost a century ago, and told with such sympathy and simplicity that it avoids being overly-pious or sanctimonious.

Best of all, the moralising and religion are leavened with humor, enough to make me laugh out at points:

“Oh, no,” said Bobby; “we never had anyone so good in the chair before.  We wish we always had you, for the indoors meetings too.”

“I am not perfectly sure that I should enjoy them,” said B. gravely, “if they are held under tables.”

This is me, laughing at that.

Sadly, The Gentle Heritage seems to be quite rare these days.  It’s not even on Project Gutenberg (though a few other books by Crompton are).  I found my copy at an op-shop in Palmerston North, and bought it on the strength of the pretty cover, a charming frontspiece, and the first page.

A charming frontspiece

Alas, my copy does not have the pretty coloured illustrations that some editions had.  Still well worth the price I paid!


  1. Thank you very much for sharing! I LOVE book recommendations, especially about classic/vintage books…and besides it’s fun to see that people all around the world appreciate the joy of reading in bed accompanied by a purring cute cat and a cup of tea (or coffee)!
    Happy reading,

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my reviews. I’m sure reading in bed is quite universally appreciated. It’s very much tea for me – chai or Lady Grey with honey and lots of milk. Felicity was ecstatic that I was sitting and reading in bed. She loves naptime and this was even better!

      • It is. Tea or cocoa for me.
        Only it’s nearly impossible to read when the cat in question is our Kaksi, because she insists on your undivided attention and will not sit still for one minute.

        It’s such a pity that I can’t get the book! It sounds absolutely delightful.

  2. What a happy post. Clearly a good time had by both reader and feline friend. Books like those can be a real delight. For some reason children’s books of that era were plentiful where I grew up, and I remember reading them fondly. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Motor Girls, so many others, serials or not…

    Very best,


    • I’ve always loved books of this era. My elementary school library had all the Louisa May Alcott books – even the obscure ones, and I’ve read every singly L.M. Montgomery books, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm and it’s sequels, and even the rather dreadful ‘What Katy Did.’ And my Dad read us The All-of-a-Kind Family books and the Little House books for bedtime reading when I was little. <3

  3. Lynne says

    It looks a delight! What a pity Project Gutenberg don’t have it. “The Gentle Heritage” made me think of my favourite Victorian story, “The Little Old Portrait” by Mrs Molesworth. The book was given to my grandmother by her sister. It is set in the French revolution, and is the story of two children, one ‘peasant’ and on ‘aristocratic’. All ends well! No sign of this one on Gutenberg, either, but many of Mrs Molesworth’s books are. I’m getting an e-reader in the next few months – I’m getting all excited about it, and making lists. The ability to find out of print books is one of the major charms.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Ooooh, I’ll have to look up Mrs Molesworth’s other books when I run out of my current stash of reading. I do love Project Gutenberg. If I could figure out how to help them get my copy of The Gentle Heritage online I would!

  4. Charis says

    Thank you for the article. I used to have this book and really loved it, but I lost it in a move.

    I just wanted to tell you that I found it online, at the Internet Archive, possibly a recent addition. I’ve added it to my Kindle and look forward to reading it again soon!

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