(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Arthur Machin is a big, rugged rugby player who wins a tryout with a professional team, called “The City,” of a grimy Northern England industrial town, population 100,000. He plays well and brutally enough to win a sign-up bonus of five hundred pounds from the committee of industrialists, dominated by Mr. Weaver, who run the team. This money, as well as subsequent bonuses, enables him to buy first a llumber and then a Jaguar, to dress expensively, to dine in upper-class restaurants, and to buy his widowed landlady, Mrs. Valerie Hammond, not only a television set but also a fur coat.

About a decade older than Arthur, Mrs. Hammond grimly and primly mourns the death of her husband, who was killed in Mr. Weaver’s factory in an industrial accident that very likely was his fault. Mrs. Hammond—Arthur, the first-person narrator, usually calls her that, hardly ever “Valerie”—regards her lodger as an intruder who threatens the repose of her insistent grief for her husband. Nevertheless, they are having an affair.

The tortured, destructive relationship between this unlikely couple becomes the central story of the novel. Arthur is not only physically strong but also emotionally relentless, resolved to batter down her reluctance to open her feelings to him. He insists on doubling the modest rent she charges him, rains gifts on her, and takes her and her two children for rides in his luxurious car. She remains the grudging recipient of his...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

This Sporting Life Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Rugby player for a team called The City, Arthur Machin gets hit in a scrum and loses six teeth. He is taken to a dentist to have his teeth fixed. He is given anesthesia and passes out. While unconscious, he recalls a time before he entered the ranks of professional rugby.

As a novice seeking a position, Machin convinces a man named Johnson to give him a tryout with a professional team. Machin has been living with a Mrs. Hammond since leaving his parents. Mrs. Hammond charges less rent than other landladies, the prime reason he had chosen to live with her. She has two children, is a widow, and is emotionally distant. When Machin tells Mrs. Hammond about his trial, she does not care. She tells Machin that her deceased husband meant everything to her; she still keeps his boots next to the hearth and regularly polishes them.

Machin learns he will be signed with the team but must negotiate a fee for himself. Advised by his teammate Maurice to ask for five hundred pounds plus bonuses, Machin waits nervously in a bar to hear from Weaver and the rest of the committee. Ed Philips, a journalist for the City Guardian, tells Machin not to take his situation too seriously, insisting rugby is only a game. Machin is signed at the salary he wanted.

Weaver drives Machin home in his Bentley and tells him about Mrs. Hammond’s husband dying at Weaver’s factory. While Mr. Hammond was working on a lathe, a file pierced his abdomen, killing him. Mrs. Hammond did not receive any compensation, because the death was ruled a suicide.

Machin tells Mrs. Hammond about the money and discusses how Weaver talked about her husband. Trying to sleep, he hears her crying downstairs. A little later, she comes to his door and asks if he will leave. He says he will stay.

In the narrative present, Machin comes out of anesthesia in the dentist’s office. He is taken in Weaver’s car to Weaver’s Christmas party. Groggy from the anesthesia, Machin tries to find a place to sleep it off and returns to his unconscious reminiscences.

In the past again, Machin buys a Jaguar. Mrs. Weaver refuses to sit in it for five weeks because the money came from Weaver. When they do get in the car, people in the neighborhood watch them. Machin drives Hammond and her children, Lynda and Ian, to Markham Abbey and Howton’s Hall for dinner.

At home, while Mrs. Hammond is making his bed, Machin makes a pass at her, but Mrs. Hammond fights him off. Hammond leaves to continue cleaning, but later Machin and Mrs. Hammond begin an affair. Mr. Hammond’s boots disappear from the hearth.

Later, Machin visits his parents, who reprimand him for losing his...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)

This Sporting Life Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Storey began his career as a novelist during the 1950’s, writing several novels before finally seeing both Flight into Camden and This Sporting Life published in 1960. Arthur Machin, the central character of This Sporting Life, is a professional rugby player, as Storey himself had been. Rugby is his life. Inside it, he knows his place and takes some pride in what he can do, but outside it he cannot fully relate to anyone. He is aware that two powerful, moneyed men in the mill town that hosts the rugby team dictate the terms of his life. Mr. Weaver and Mr. Slomer, mutual enemies, make things difficult, since deference toward one may be taken as a slight by the other. Launching what could become a lucrative, if short-lived, career in the hard-hitting, brutal sport of rugby, Arthur becomes beholden to Mr. Weaver in several ways, including receiving money advances and automobiles from him.

Standing outside the rugby world is another significant character: Arthur’s landlady, the widow Mrs. Hammond. Arthur rents a room from her when he first joins the team. He helps her with chores and with her two young children, Lynde and Ian. Eventually he seduces her. They begin a regular sexual routine. Yet, he is never quite able to sort out his relationship with her. He stays as her boarder long after he could afford better lodging. He buys her trinkets, a television, a fur coat, and other valuables, making her feel like a kept woman. She...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

This Sporting Life Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Allen, W. C. Review in Library Journal. LXXXVI (August, 1960), p. 2818.

Bradbury, Malcolm. Review in The New York Times Book Review. XLIV (September 18, 1960), p. 68.

Gray, Nigel. The Silent Majority: A Study of the Working Class in Post-War British Fiction, 1973.

McGuiness, Frank. “The Novels of David Storey,” in London Magazine. March, 1964.

O’Connor, William Van. The New University Wits and the End of Modernism, 1963.

Taylor, John Russell. David Storey, 1974.

Waterhouse, Keith. Review in Saturday Review. XLIII (December 17, 1960), p. 21.