Garnet Bowen, formerly a journalist, now a part-time reviewer and essayist with ambitions to be a dramatist, lives somewhat hand-to-mouth, supporting his wife and three young children, hoping for something more permanent in the literary trade. He is equally elated and deflated by a commission for an article on European travel which will pay well but obliges him to go to the Continent. Bowen hates leaving London, and particularly despises anything to do with traveling in Europe.
His reluctance to go abroad is further eroded by the chance to make a bit of money and to ingratiate himself with Bennie Hyman’s publishing firm, which he hopes may hire him on a permanent basis if he does a job for them in Portugal which is, by chance, the country his wife wishes to visit.
One of the publishing firm’s oldest novelists, Wulfstan Strether, who supposedly stopped writing some time before, has mailed Hyman’s company the manuscript of a new novel. The editor who had handled Strether’s work has died, and no one in the organization is quite sure if the new novel is really by Strether. Bennie Hyman asks Bowen to visit Strether and, without Strether knowing what he is up to, try to decide if the man claiming to be the novelist is the real thing or an impostor.
Bowen, reluctantly, sets off to the Continent by car (his wife driving), and by sea to take up a house rental in Portugal, which proves considerably less than satisfactory. Bowen meets...
(The entire section is 511 words.)