The Hardie Inheritance, first published in 1990 and recently reissued, is the last in a trilogy of novels following a family of English wine merchants from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. The first two books are The House of Hardie and The Daughter of Hardie, but if you haven’t read them it shouldn’t be a problem as the author provides enough of the backstory for new readers to be able to pick up the threads, without completely spoiling the plots of the other two books.
While the previous novel covered the period of World War I and its aftermath, The Hardie Inheritance takes us forward to 1932. There are now only three Hardies – Grace, Philip and their mother, Lucy – still living at Greystones, the family estate in Oxfordshire, and they have settled into a quiet, uneventful life together. Grace, now in her late thirties and expecting to remain a spinster, keeps herself busy with her sculpting, while her brother Philip, who returned from the war suffering from shell shock and weak lungs, fills his days looking after the gardens. Then, one sunny day in July, four unexpected visitors arrive at Greystones and set Grace’s life on a different course.
First, there’s Ellis Faraday and his six-year-old daughter, Trish. Ellis, a photographer, is the son of the architect who designed Greystones and he is keen to take pictures of the interior. At first, Grace is reluctant, aware that due to lack of money she has not been able to maintain the building properly, but she agrees to let him see the house and soon he and Trish have become part of her life – although not quite in the way you might expect. Also that same day, they are visited by Rupert, a cousin who has just discovered his connection with the Hardie branch of the family. And finally, Andy Frith, the gardener’s son who had once been Grace’s beloved childhood friend, returns from France to see his dying father.
The novel follows the stories of all of these people and more, but with a particular focus on Grace as she comes to terms with the changes in her household and faces some important decisions to secure the future of Greystones, and on Trish as she grows into a woman and begins her own search for happiness. Meanwhile, the outbreak of World War II poses new challenges for the Hardies and their friends. The whole novel takes place within a domestic setting and we don’t actually see any of the fighting, but we do see the impact it has on the lives of those left at home. One of my favourite storylines involves Trish being sent to Oxford to collect a family of evacuees from London who, it seems, would rather not be evacuated at all. And although there would obviously have been many people who suffered much more greatly, I still had sympathy for Rupert whose beautiful home, Castlemere, is requisitioned for use as a boarding school!
I think The Hardie Inheritance is my favourite of the three books in the trilogy. There were a lot of new characters introduced early in the book, but I had no problem keeping track of them all and I became very fond of some of them, particularly Trish. Some parts of the book were quite predictable, but others took me by surprise, particularly the ending which I hadn’t expected but which, when I thought about it, was the perfect way to bring the saga of Greystones to a close.
Anne Melville (a pseudonym of Margaret Potter) was a very prolific author who wrote in several different genres using different names – I have read her mystery novel, Murder to Music, which was published under the name Margaret Newman, but most of her other books are out of print so I hope more of them will eventually be made available again.
Book 20/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.