A Passion for History Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kraft, an American historian, college lecturer, and writer, wants to escape the demands and distractions of his busy life. He has used the royalties from his book on the radical movement to purchase a large plot of land in rural Nova Scotia. The story begins at a boathouse, where Kraft is conversing with a young woman named Thea.

As they talk, Kraft is dismissive about his academic work, self-conscious that his work ostensibly compromises his professed radical values. Nevertheless, he is proud of the way he perceives and teaches history, emphasizing the lives of ordinary people, rather than kings. Trying to express this idea to Thea, he is condescending, repeating himself and overly simplifying as if he were talking to a child. He tells her that “history is people. Little people.”

Immediately following this exchange between Kraft and Thea, the narrator backs away from the characters and presents another framed picture. A man and woman embrace and kiss, and the man begins to unbutton the woman’s dress. As the narrator backs still farther away from the man and woman, the reader’s view turns out on the surrounding environment—estuaries, river, sea, and Kraft’s large house, which is a bit of an embarrassment to Kraft. Once again, his actions compromise his values. Owning a vacation home on nearly a thousand acres is inconsistent with his reputation as a radical.

Kraft usually retreats to this weathered old house in Nova Scotia with his family, but this spring he has come alone, ostensibly to work. As he proceeds to undress Thea, he thinks about his wife. He knows that she would consider his affair a serious transgression. He concurs, but this does not alter his behavior.

Thea’s father approaches, interrupting the younger couple. Old Mr. McKnight has come to the house for coffee, after which he will go back out to scavenge on the beach. As Kraft considers McKnight, his mind moves back and forth between being present with this man as another human being and surveying him from an academic distance, putting him in historical perspective. He makes parenthetical notes about the...

(The entire section is 870 words.)