The narrator, a successful middle-aged novelist, tells the story from his point of view in episodes that span about three years. He reminisces about his long-standing acquaintance with Ferdy Rabenstein, a cultured and affluent Jewish bachelor of London who moves in the best social circles. From Ferdy, the narrator learns that the Blands, who have invited him to Tilby, their estate in Sussex, are Ferdy’s relatives, Sir Adolphus Bland being his nephew. Unlike Ferdy, they have concealed their Jewish identity and have led the lives of English country gentry.
Eminently successful, Sir Adolphus, a conservative member of Parliament, served as minister of munitions during World War I. Muriel, his wife, has converted to Catholicism. Their two sons, who bear the quintessentially English names George and Henry, are enrolled in elite educational institutions. Henry attends Eton, and George, the elder son, has just been sent down from Oxford, where he wasted his time and his father’s money. Family ties with Ferdy have been broken, in part because he would not change his name during World War I and also because the Blands want no association with unassimilated Jews.
Because George will inherit the estate, his father wants him to follow a suitable profession, such as the diplomatic service. George has other ideas. He asks permission to go to Munich to study languages and prepare for an Oxford examination, a request his family reluctantly grants.
A few days after his return from the Blands, the narrator sees Ferdy in London and is invited to dinner. At the dinner he finds George present, a surprising turn because George’s parents have rejected Ferdy’s invitation, sent through the narrator himself. Ferdy has interceded with his sister, Lady Hannah Bland, George’s grandmother, who arranged the meeting. However, the dinner is not a success because Ferdy embarrasses George, whom he has just met for the first time, by telling humorous Jewish stories.
When the narrator next sees Muriel, he learns that...
(The entire section is 834 words.)