Joy of the Worm Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

After a year of working at odd jobs around New Zealand, Jeremy Bohun returns home to reestablish contact with his parents. Jeremy is feeling at loose ends generally, a state of mind that contrasts with his father’s great self-assurance. His father, James, is a Methodist clergyman who takes it as his professional obligation to direct the lives of those around him. To this end, he reads endlessly from theological and classical tomes and as a result projects himself in what he perceives to be an erudite manner. To others he seems merely eccentric, out of date, and overbearing. The result of his dictatorial and rather archaic manner is that his wife has retreated into a shell while John, his second son, has left home disgusted with his father’s senseless pontification, vowing never to return.

When Jeremy first walks into the kitchen of his parents’ home after his long absence, his father mistakes him for John, his favorite, and greets Jeremy accordingly. This greeting comes as no surprise to Jeremy, knowing his father as well as he does, nor does his father’s request that he return to a long-standing practice and read to him daily from Gibbon’s History. In time, the old man hopes, this will create a bond of mutual intellectual curiosity between them.

Soon Jeremy relocates to a small town nearby, where he secures a position with the local government. Taken under the wing of his predecessor, Mr. Greenlee, in whose home he lodges, Jeremy learns the various aspects of his job and settles comfortably into a routine. Another boarder at the Greenlee home, Maisie Michie, captures his interest, and a love affair ensues. Without the knowledge of the Greenlees, who would never brook such behavior under their roof, Jeremy and Maisie begin sleeping together. Jeremy goes to some trouble to furnish a back room of his office suitably so that they can meet there as well. Jeremy’s meager salary is not very conducive to his romantic interests, and he therefore begins what becomes a rather inglorious habit of stealing from the office petty cash.

As this is occurring, Jeremy’s mother is slowly dying back home. James, feeling the part of the long-sufferer, has had the help of one of his parishioners, a middle-aged woman named Queenie Quelch, in seeing to the care and comfort of his failing wife. Queenie first became known to James when she had asked his help in investing five hundred pounds inherited from her mother. Being suitably flattered and using the best means at his disposal, James invested the money in what became a losing proposition. He later reminisces, to his own comfort and gratification, that on the occasion of entrusting her money to him Queenie may have lost five hundred pounds, but she gained a husband, for after the first Mrs. Bohun’s departure from the world, James...

(The entire section is 1151 words.)

Joy of the Worm Bibliography (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Copland, R. A. Frank Sargeson, 1976.

King, Bruce Alvin. “New Zealand: Frank Sargeson and Colloquial Realism,” in The New English Literatures: Cultural Nationalism in a Changing World, 1980.

Rhodes, H. Winston. Frank Sargeson, 1969.

The Times Literary Supplement. Review. August 7, 1969, p. 873.