The Paper Men Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Wilfred Barclay has had a very successful career as a novelist. His first book was both a popular and a critical success. Subsequent works have done well, but in later years he has coasted on his reputation and has given in to his propensity for heavy drinking. Although he has had a decent respect for his own work, he has not thought in terms of literary immortality. He seems, rather, to enjoy living in comfort in the country with his wife, Elizabeth.

Barclay’s whole life and his view of his career begin to change radically with the appearance of an American academic, Rick L. Tucker. Invited to Barclay’s home for dinner, Tucker stays the night and is caught rifling through Barclay’s garbage for the discarded pieces of the novelist’s literary output. Disturbed by the ruckus between Barclay and Tucker, Elizabeth discovers the men struggling in the kitchen in a kind of embrace. Actually Barclay has mistaken the hairy Tucker, on his knees rooting about in garbage, for a badger.

Elizabeth wrests from Tucker the scrap of paper he has managed to extract from the garbage. Rather than a rejected draft of a literary work, the paper turns out to be a fragment of a Barclay letter to a former mistress. Barclay, whose pajama bottoms have fallen to the floor in his wrestling with Tucker, is literally caught with his pants down. Tucker’s intrusion into his home leads to Barclay’s divorce from Elizabeth and to a turning point in his literary...

(The entire section is 495 words.)