Time of Hope. It is the summer of 1914, and Lewis Eliot is eight years old. Later, because of his provincial education, he comes to realize his deficiencies as a student. After falling in love with Sheila Knight, he realizes his failings as a lover. Sheila, the beautiful daughter of a self-centered clergyman and a distant mother, knows that she will never love Eliot, but his persistence leads to their marriage.
By 1933, Eliot has acquired an insightful perspective on his ambitions and his need for love. He recognizes that the legal profession does not always bring about justice and that loving someone as self-absorbed as Sheila may be rooted in some basic flaw in his own character.
Strangers and Brothers. Eliot’s mentor, George Passant, a solicitor’s clerk, deeply influences a circle of idealistic students. By attending Passant’s group meetings and college lectures, and through his access to Passant’s diary, Eliot comes to admire certain of his mentor’s activities, such as helping a student retain his college scholarship. However, with time, Eliot becomes increasingly aware of Passant’s limitations, such as his willingness to use his band of so-called brothers to further his own ambitions. He involves them in a scheme for deceiving investors about the circulation figures of a publication, which leads to a charge of fraud. Because Eliot is a member of the group, he gets Herbert Getliffe, a well-respected attorney, to argue the case before a jury, which returns a verdict of not guilty on all counts. Nevertheless, because of revelations about Passant’s liberal views on politics and sexual freedom, Passant loses his job at the college and his chance for advancement in a law firm.
The Conscience of the Rich. It is the 1930’s, and Eliot has qualified as a barrister. In London now, he befriends Charles March, the scion of a prosperous Jewish family, who gives him the chance to see how the rich live and to speculate on their consciences. Charles’s father, Leonard March, wants his son to become a lawyer, but Charles possesses a guilty conscience over his unearned wealth, and he abandons law to study to become a family physician. Eliot is more than willing to use the Marches to gain introductions to important London lawyers, hoping they will provide him with cases, through which he can build his legal reputation.
The Light and the Dark. Eliot, now a don at Cambridge, tells the tragic story of Roy Calvert, a scholar of Manicheanism whose dualistic philosophy divides the world between spirit and matter, good and evil, light and dark. His work also examines the real-world division between those persons motivated by selfishness and greed and those persons inspired by humanistic political and religious ideologies. From the outside, Calvert appears to have everything—wealth, brilliance, good looks, and scholarly success—but on the inside he is plagued by Hamlet-like depressions, which Eliot strives to mitigate, only to be rebuffed. Calvert’s conflicts are brought to a head through his election as a fellow and his fascination with the dramatic successes of the Nazis. Eliot is able to dampen Calvert’s attraction to Nazi power, and he experiences hope when Roy marries and the couple has a child. However, Calvert enlists in the air force, not out of patriotism but to satisfy his death wish.
The Masters. It is 1937, and there is much political maneuvering behind the election of a new master to a Cambridge college in which Eliot is a fellow. Eliot and some of his colleagues back Paul Jago, perceived as sharing their liberal humanist values, and oppose R. T. A. Crawford, a self-confident scientist who, they fear, may govern...
(The entire section is 1528 words.)