Study Guide

The Man Who Invented Sin

by John Francis Whelan

The Man Who Invented Sin Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the 1920’s, the Irish struggle for independence was waged on a cultural level as well as on a political front; on their summer vacations, Irish schoolteachers, many of them members of religious orders, flocked to the countryside to learn Irish. “The Man Who Invented Sin” is set against this background. As the story opens, it is the summer of 1920, and the narrator is staying in a mountain village that is crowded with summer students. He eventually finds lodging at the Ryder place, two miles out of town, down by the lake. He shares his new quarters with two monks, Brother Virgilius and Brother Majellan, and two nuns, Sister Magdalen and Sister Chrysostom, whose monasteries and convents have filled to overflowing.

At first these religious lodgers behave in a decorous, reserved fashion, keeping to themselves and observing “convent hours.” As the summer progresses, however, they become increasingly friendly with one another and with the narrator, and bit by bit strict propriety is set aside. They give one another nicknames, sing together, and play “pitch-and-toss along the garden path.”

One evening, they are gathered in the drawing room. The narrator is playing the piano while Chrysostom sings “like a blackbird,” Virgilius enjoys a tankard of beer, and Magdalen and Majellan try to waltz. On this gay scene bursts the village curate, nicknamed Lispeen by the students, thundering fire and brimstone at the sight of such wild...

(The entire section is 568 words.)