Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
About the time their third son, Paul, is born, the Meyerhofers lose their country estate, Helenenthal, through forced sale. Meyerhofer tries to keep his wife, Elsbeth, in ignorance of what is going on, but she is so uneasy that at last he tells her that a family named Douglas bought his property.
Meyerhofer is a violent man, given to grandiose schemes to gain wealth and endowed with a martyr complex. It suits him to move his family to a humble farm, within sight of Helenenthal, where they will be constantly reminded of their lost prosperity. Elsbeth, a docile woman, shudders at the prospect.
Mrs. Douglas, a kindhearted woman, comes to see the mother and her baby. She assures Elsbeth that she can stay on at Helenenthal as long as the family wishes. The two women become good friends. Mrs. Douglas acts as godmother for Paul, and Mrs. Meyerhofer is godmother for Elsbeth, a daughter born to the Douglases a short time later. In spite of their friendship, however, Meyerhofer takes offense at a fancied slight and moves his family in bleak November to a farm on the moor.
In those poor surroundings, Paul has a secluded childhood. His mother, sensing his retiring disposition, is kind to him, but his father is brutal. He continually ridicules his son by comparing him unfavorably with his two lively older brothers. He often beats Paul, and after the beatings his mother comforts him. She often tells him stories; the one he remembers best is a...
(The entire section is 1260 words.)
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