Richard Rowan and Bertha, unmarried lovers, return from Italy with their eight-year-old son Archie to Dublin, where, although physically at home, they are in spiritual exile. The two people most involved in their return are Robert and Beatrice, first cousins once engaged to be married. Robert, however, was always dominated by Richard’s ideas and was tenuously in love with Bertha. When he recognized Bertha’s love for Richard, he was gradually drawn to Beatrice, who was in love with him. She, too, was always fascinated by Richard and found that, without him, charming but weak Robert became a mere cipher. Finally, her engagement to Robert broke off—a situation from which Beatrice, as she tells Richard, is still in emotional recovery.
Richard thus was a dominant force behind at least three sensitive and intelligent people in their youth. In maturity, his physical passions and his commitment to people still complement his ideals of freedom and integrity. This fact is demonstrated in a conversation with Robert who, while explaining his eagerness to promote Richard’s academic career, declares that he finds in Richard the same faith that a disciple has in his master. Richard answers cryptically that his is a master’s faith in the disciple who will eventually betray him. In this fashion he is trying to indicate to Robert, who uneasily becomes the editor of a conventional Dublin newspaper, his desire to avoid influencing those he loves while remaining wholly loyal to them.
In somewhat the same fashion Richard desires to be united with Bertha, but not to be bound or to bind, even in love. In Italy, Richard was absorbed in his writing and Bertha was often sad and lonely. She remained devoted to him but understood neither his aesthetic standards nor his ethics. In marked contrast is his relationship with Beatrice. She always understands what he writes and is fascinated by his unique courage. Through his exile they corresponded about his writing, and on his return Beatrice comes to his house to give piano lessons to Archie. Upon renewed contact, Richard finds that there is much in Beatrice’s character that he can use in his current novel. This is the most vital bond between them.
Through the perversity of passion Bertha identifies herself with Richard and thus sees his relationship with Beatrice as a love affair. Her concern causes her to crystallize her feeling of loss toward him, and she turns to Robert, whom she always liked because he, too, looks up to Richard....
(The entire section is 1022 words.)