(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Young Arthur Kipps knew there was something mysterious about his birth, but his memories of his mother were so vague that they were all but meaningless. He knew only that she had gone away, leaving him in the care of his aunt and uncle and providing a small sum for his education. He spent his bleak childhood in a wretched school in which he learned nothing. His vacations were dominated by his aunt’s notions of what was proper. His unhappy childhood was lightened somewhat, however, by his friendship with a boy of “low” class and the boy’s sister, Ann Pornick. One day, he and Ann tore a sixpence note in two, each keeping a half. This was Kipps’s first venture in love, but it was short-lived. When he finished school, he was apprenticed to a draper. Soon afterward, the Pornicks moved away, and Ann went into domestic service.

His life as an apprentice was as dull as his childhood. After seven years, he was given a position in the firm at twenty pounds a year. He was engaged several times, as was the custom among his friends. His next real infatuation, after Ann, however, was for Miss Helen Walsingham, a lady in the true sense. She taught wood carving in a class he attended for self-improvement. Kipps keenly felt his ignorance about the ways of the world. Helen was so far above him in station that he could only stare at her in awe, for he could neither talk nor act in any way other than clumsily.

Kipps’s fortunes, however, were soon to change. Through an accident, he made the acquaintance of Mr. Chitterlow, a would-be playwright and actor. Because Chitterlow poured whiskey into Kipps at an alarming rate, the young man got drunk and stayed away from his residence, which was also his business address, all night, and he found himself the next morning with a month’s notice. As he cursed himself for a fool, Chitterlow burst upon him again with news that a person answering Kipps’s description was being advertised for by a solicitor. When Kipps investigated, he found that he had inherited a fortune, twelve hundred pounds a year and a handsome house, to be exact. He learned then that he had been the illegitimate son of a gentleman whose father would not let him marry Kipps’s mother. Both his parents were dead, as was his grandfather. The old gentleman had relented before his death and left his fortune to his unknown grandson.

Bewildered by his new wealth, Kipps could do nothing constructive for some time. He felt a great need for knowledge of things of which he was dismally ignorant. He was besieged by requests for charity and by salesmen of all descriptions. Chitterlow persuaded him to buy a quarter interest in a play...

(The entire section is 1086 words.)