(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

When the story opens, Samuel (Sam) and Henrietta (Henny) Pollit have long since stopped speaking to each other except to argue. Any information they must exchange is conveyed through notes or by using the children as go-betweens. Despite their numerous offspring, they have hated each other from the day they married. The conflict between them is the essential conflict of the novel.

The action covers several years in the Pollits’ lives. Louisa (Louie) is eleven and a half when the action begins and fourteen when the story ends. The impact of her parents’ differences on her life—on both her external world and the rich and tormented imaginative world that she creates as a buffer against the harsh realities of life in the Pollit home—is the major focus of the plot. Neither Sam nor Henny changes significantly during the course of the action, but there is significant growth and change in Louie.

When the story begins, the Pollits live in Tohoga House, a large, rambling estate which they rent from Henny’s well-to-do father, with the understanding that they will someday inherit the property. Sam works for the Department of Commerce, and the true complications of the plot begin when he is appointed a Special Field Commissioner and travels to Malaya with a team of Americans to spend nine months advising and studying the cultures of the Pacific.

Just before his departure, his sister, Bonnie, who lives with the Pollits and functions as a house servant, leaves the family. Henny demands that Sam provide a servant to help her with the children during his absence, a fight that leads to a rare sexual encounter (the Pollits have separate bedrooms) and, presumably, to the conception of the family’s last child, Charles Franklin, born the day after Sam returns from his visit to the Orient. The child’s paternity is later called into question by an anonymous note delivered to the Pollit home, and the true identity of the father is never clearly established.

The time in the Orient is very difficult for Sam. He finds that he cannot adjust to the climate, and he misses his children, who serve as a worshipful audience for the antics and preachings of the man they sometimes call, at his own suggestion, Sam-the-Bold. The months are equally difficult for the pregnant Henny, who must manage her cumbersome household with very little in the way of financial resources.

When Sam returns, the action picks up, and the main events of the novel all occur with relative speed. On the day of his welcome-home party, the news of old David Collyer’s death arrives just as Henny goes into labor. What is at first believed to be a good thing for the Pollits, the...

(The entire section is 1097 words.)

The Man Who Loved Children Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Ongoing tension defines the relationship between Henny and Sam Pollit. They do not speak to each other except to argue violently. Sam expends enormous energy on his children, getting their help with projects around Tohoga House in Washington, D.C., a rambling rundown property they rent cheaply from Henny’s father. Sam speaks various forms of partly made-up speech with the children and calls them by numerous pet names. He has high praise for them at one moment and then turns on them, sometimes physically.

Sam’s relationship with his daughter Louisa is particularly problematic, as he has high hopes for her but is disappointed by her fat awkward body and her tendency toward romantic literature. Sunday-Funday is Sam’s day at home with the children.

Henny, who feels herself ruined after her ten-year marriage to Sam and after raising their five children, goes into town the next day to see Bert Anderson, who is her friend and presumably her lover, as they retire to his place after lunch. Then Aunt Jo visits the Pollits to complain that her sister, Bonnie, who works at Tohoga House, is carrying on with a married man and ruining Jo’s reputation as well as her own.

Back at Tohoga, the battles between Sam and Henny continue over such issues as a servant for Henny (who does not like Sam’s sister, Bonnie) and over Henny’s stepdaughter, Louisa, whom Henny neither likes nor feels she can manage. Sam tries to talk to Louisa about the problems. They discuss, among other things, the possibility that murder might be for the good of the many at the cost of the victim. Henny, meanwhile, is in bed, worrying about all the debts she is secretly running up, vaguely hoping that her sister Hessie Collyer or her father will help her, and focusing on how idiotic she finds Sam with his dreams for the future of humanity and for his wild domestic schemes.

Sam, who is an anthropologist employed by the federal government, tells Henny that he is going to Malaya on a Smithsonian expedition for six to eight months and that he will send her money. She threatens to take the children and move back to her father’s house. Sam explodes at the idea that the family would be broken up. Finally, he hits her, and she responds by slashing him several times with a bread knife. After the violence they come to an uneasy truce, and Sam reminisces about the early betrayal of his marriage, when Henny flirted seriously with Mark Colfax.

Louisa visits for the summer with her dead mother’s family along the Shenandoah. The family has a long and twisted history stretching back to the American Revolution. She stays with Rachel’s sister and meets all the family, including Grandfather Issac. Henny and the children go to Monocacy, where they meet Old Ellen...

(The entire section is 1134 words.)

The Man Who Loved Children Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

An autobiographical novel, The Man Who Loved Children is built on series of conflicts of increasing intensity involving the marriage of Sam and Henny Pollit. The conflicts culminate in a tragic climax. The second theme, of Louisa’s escalating conflict with her domineering father, is also played out in scenes of her attempts to break free. Another organizing device is juxtaposition: Sam and Henny, the female principal and the male, adults and children, and delusion versus reality.

The antagonism is well established between Sam and Henny as the novel opens. They are not speaking to each other, but soon their silence is broken by Sam’s self-serving speeches and Henny’s bitter tirades. A protected daughter of a wealthy family, Henny is incapable of running the large household of children and assorted relatives with inadequate finances and Sam’s constant attempts to subvert her authority. When Sam joins an expedition, he leaves her, pregnant and in poverty, to spend the winter in a freezing house. On returning, Sam finds that Louisa, his daughter from an earlier marriage, has become increasingly defiant. After Henny gives birth to a boy, Sam receives news that Henny’s father has died and their fine house in Washington, D.C., must be sold to pay debts.

Sam loses his job, and when the family moves to a crumbling old house on a mudbank in Maryland, his attempts to retain control of Louisa grow meaner. Henny lives in misery between...

(The entire section is 493 words.)