Study Guide

Other People's Worlds

by William Trevor Cox

Other People's Worlds Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Julia Ferndale has been a widow for nine years, her two daughters are grown and on their own, and she lives a fairly comfortable life with her mother in the nineteenth century Swan House, near Stone St. Martin, typing legal documents for a nearby firm of solicitors. Then she meets Francis Tyte, an actor fourteen years her junior; they fall in love and plan to wed and honeymoon in Italy.

That is perhaps the last happy news of Other People’s Worlds, a novel that sucks readers deeper and deeper into its psychological mire. Francis Tyte is a psychopath, an attractive-looking man who lives out a series of criminal fantasy lives, alternately attracting and repelling people (Julia is only the latest) to satisfy his own murky needs. As Julia is pulled into his world, she meets more and more of his other victims. In a series of chapters told from the perspective of most of the major characters, the sordid lives of these victims are revealed.

When the novel opens, Julia is preparing happily for her wedding, and Francis is rehearsing a small part in a television thriller, based on the sensational story of the Victorian murderess Constance Kent, being filmed some miles away. Only Mrs. Anstey, Julia’s intuitive mother, knows that something is wrong: “Julia should not be marrying this man,” she realizes early in the novel.

It is never clear exactly what Francis’ motives are (or if he has any, or if he would recognize them if he did), but he gets Julia to pay for the Italian trip—and to bring her jewelry with her. Once there, he confesses something of his sordid past: Among other things, he is married to a Jewish dressmaker thirty years his elder and has a thirteen-year-old child by another woman somewhere in London. What he probably does not...

(The entire section is 729 words.)

Other People's Worlds Bibliography (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Clemons, Walter. Review in Newsweek. XCVII (January 19, 1981), p. 82.

De Mott, Benjamin. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIV (February 1, 1981), p. 8.

Sheppard, R. D. Review in Time. CXVII (February 2, 1981), p. 82.

Updike, John. Review in The New Yorker. LI (March 23, 1981), p. 148.