Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The sad overtones of this novel’s beginning concern Helen Ambrose’s departure from London, where she is leaving her two young children because she and her husband, Ridley Ambrose, are sailing to an unnamed resort on the South American coast, where they will spend the winter season. The omniscient narrator tells the reader that, as they walk through an ugly, industrialized London, Helen’s mind—filled with “misery for her children, the poor, the rain”—“was like a wound exposed to dry in the air.” By the novel’s end, this wound will be opened again by the death of Rachel Vinrace.
The Ambroses are going to sail on the cargo ship Euphrosyne, owned by Willoughby Vinrace, Helen’s brother-in-law, who plans to sail on to the Congo region after allowing the Ambroses to disembark at their resort. Also on board is Vinrace’s daughter Rachel, who is, except for her talent as a pianist, a nondescript young woman when Helen meets her, though “she might be interesting” if she “were ever to think, feel, laugh, or express herself,” Helen thinks. Rachel plans to travel to the Congo with her father—until Helen proposes that her niece stay with her and Ridley at the resort. Rachel hesitantly agrees to Helen’s plan, but her father is more enthusiastic because he believes that Helen, his dead wife’s sister, could help him by helping Rachel, by “bringing her out,” by “making a woman of her, the kind of woman her mother would...
(The entire section is 1113 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In London, Helen and Ridley Ambrose board the Euphrosyne, which will take them to Santa Marina in South America, where they plan to vacation. On board the ship, the Ambroses meet their niece, Rachel, whose father owns the ship and whom they have not seen in several years, and Mr. Pepper, an old family friend. The ship is soon under way, and as they sail, Helen studies her companions. She judges Rachel to be unformed, a character defect she attributes to her sheltered existence; Pepper she considers somewhat of a bore.
Rachel is indeed an unformed young woman. Her mother is dead, and she lives with her aunts and is seldom in society. She knows virtually nothing of the relations between men and women and has no confidants; her questions such as “Are you fond of your sister?” are judged inappropriate by her aunts and left unanswered. The things she does hear her aunts discuss seem to Rachel to have nothing to do with life. She deduces that no one ever says anything they mean or talks about anything they have felt. By the age of twenty-four, Rachel is confused but wondering and inarticulate about her feelings and observations. Unable to express her inner life through language, she instead plays the piano, believing that music expresses all the things one means and feels but cannot talk about.
While the ship is in port at Lisbon, Willoughby Vinrace, ashore on business, learns that an English couple have overwhelmed his clerk with their...
(The entire section is 1028 words.)