Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Throughout this work, there are only passing references to political issues and then in a slightly satirical vein. Class concerns seem to be of only passing significance. There is a felt distinction between those of comfortable means such as Julian or Joan, and the others, but there are no real social barriers to separate the various characters. No one seems to take work particularly seriously—except perhaps for Jenny when she has some difficulty with her schoolboys—and nowhere is there any real dedication to scholarly or business concerns. On the other hand, social pursuits are sometimes taken only half-seriously; invariably, they are accompanied by rather heavy drinking which seems to make everything go by more easily.

However much romantic-erotic concerns preoccupy Patrick and his friends, and pose vexing questions for Jenny and other women, there is still an element of sport in their amorous endeavors. At the outset, responses to sexual urges are controlled, modulated, and circumscribed by explicit boundaries, upon which Patrick encroaches and which Jenny seeks to defend. There are neither sublime and poetic musings nor underlying subjective impulses at work; though both principal characters become susceptible to romantic suggestion, there are mundane moments as well. As Jenny becomes somewhat entranced with Patrick, her emotional state is lifted simply to the point at which “she had a sort of permanent two gin and tonics inside her.”

More general implications are raised, however, in the discussions of sexual morality that take up much of the time Patrick and Jenny spend together. Patrick contends that premarital abstinence and prolonged platonic courtship went out of style around 1914; there remain only men with some scruples and decency (such as himself) and more predatory adventurers. Jenny’s sense of personal integrity requires something more than a few meetings before she finally will yield to him. She does not really oppose sexual relations; she merely resists any attempt to sweep her off her feet too soon. For that matter, it could be argued that many romantic encounters have this dialectical quality. This work creates, in the author’s quirky and often comic way, situations that raise perennial problems in the relations of modern men and women.