Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Alton Locke is a poor, cockney (working-class), retail-tradesman’s son. His father had invested all his money in a small shop that failed; by contrast, Alton’s uncle has prospered and now owns several grocery stores. Desperately poor, Alton’s widowed mother asks the uncle to find Alton a position as a tailor’s apprentice.
The tailor’s establishment is Alton’s first experience of the world outside his mother’s strict Baptist household. The workroom is closed, stinking, and filthy, and most of the other tailors are gross, vulgar, and irreverent. Alton is, however, drawn to a coworker, John Crossthwaite, who is more thoughtful than the others. Locke wants to improve himself by reading. Having exhausted his mother’s few narrow Calvinist theological tomes, he discovers a used-book shop. The shop owner, Saunders “Sandy” Mackaye, befriends him, lends him books, and gives him a place to live after his mother evicts him for reading secular books.
One morning, Alton is summoned to his uncle’s office for an interview, during which he meets his cousin George, who is about to enter Cambridge University. Together, they visit an art gallery, where Alton sees the beautiful Lillian Winnstay along with her father, Dean Winnstay, and her cousin Eleanor Staunton. Alton instantly falls in love with Lillian and spends the following year looking for her in London and feeling bitter toward the gentlemen who can visit her because of their rank in...
(The entire section is 1116 words.)
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