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The Heir of Barachah

de Jean K. Baird

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Sitting on his stoop one spring day, sixteen-year-old Thomas Hughes Peirson dejectedly contemplates his seemingly bleak future. The product of a poor and rundown home, with a frequently absent alcoholic father and a shrilly complaining stepmother, he sees little prospect of further education, despite his academic gifts, or advancement to a profession. Just at that psychological moment when he is becoming lost in his own despair, Hector Priam, an idiosyncratic flower-cultivating neighbor whom the entire district consider rather queer, arrives on the scene with some astonishing news. Swearing him to secrecy, he reveals that Thomas is really the "Heir of Barachah," and will come into a fortune worth more than millions at the age of thirty, if he fulfills some specific conditions. And so begins Thomas' transformation, as he pursues his studies independently with Hector, begins to earn his own money through all manner of hard work, and befriends his stepmother, becoming the provider his father should have been. Eventually he does find a way to attend college, becoming a lawyer and settling in the city of Hornell. Here he confronts the specter of political corruption, being briefly tempted before triumphing honestly, against all odds. Having won his way to success and a loving home, all without ever surrendering his honor or straying from the honest course, he discovers on his thirtieth birthday what his inheritance is to be...

Published in 1911, this young adult selection from Jean K. Baird is very much in the style of Horatio Alger Jr., featuring an impoverished but worthy young man who overcomes his financial disadvantages through honest hard work and sobriety. Like many of the Alger books, it features an older man, in the form of Hector Priam (real name: Dr. Van Felt), who aids the hero, stepping in at exactly the right moment in order to offer much-needed encouragement. I was struck by the storyline here, with the inheritance being used as an encouragement toward leading a better life, when the better life itself ends up being the inheritance that has been promised, as I feel that I have stumbled across the same idea elsewhere, although I can't quite put my finger on just where. Perhaps it only felt familiar because the solution to the puzzle of what Thomas will eventually inherit is made so obvious, not just by the conventions guiding this sport of literature, but by the name "Barachah" itself. A clear reference to Second Chronicles - "On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Bera'cah, for there they blessed the LORD," - its religious overtones hint at the idea that leading a virtuous and godly life is itself the blessing (Barachah) that is given to the inheritor.

One sees many of the themes that have appeared in Baird's other novels here, from the importance of sobriety - the author is a clear advocate of temperance, and usually casts publicans and saloon-keepers as the villains in her stories - to the value of honesty and hard work. The incident in which Thomas, working for the summer as a newspaper reporter, marches into the editor's office to take responsibility for the errors in his article, also felt familiar to me, as the exact same kind of scene is featured in the third book of this author's Hester trilogy, Hester's Wage Earning. Whether contemporary readers will enjoy The Heir of Barachah, I couldn't say - although I suspect not. For my part, I found it a fascinating period piece, and would recommend it to readers looking for Horatio Alger-style stories for young readers, from the early years of the twentieth century. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Aug 7, 2016 |
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