Maurice Pervin, a world war veteran, has settled on a farm in the English Midlands after being blinded in combat during his second tour of army duty in Flanders. He and his wife, Isabel, have employed a tenant couple to manage the farm. Maurice discusses details of production with his manager and assists him with such tasks as attending to the domestic animals, while Isabel continues to review books for a Scottish newspaper. She is pregnant and the Pervins are both anxious about the child because their firstborn died in infancy during Maurice’s initial posting in France. During the year that the Pervins have been living on the farm, a wonderful intimacy has developed between them as Isabel has devoted herself to her husband’s needs, and their “connubial absorption” has effectively shut out the world beyond the farm. Isabel has joined Maurice in a private realm of solitude approximating the darkness of his existence, and she shares to some extent his “dark, palpable joy,” but the absence of any contact with society has also produced a void within her, inducing a feeling of exhaustion and emptiness. When Maurice is struck with devastating depressions that cause him to question his value as a man following his loss of vision, Isabel finds it impossible to be with him in spite of her professed commitment.
At this crucial juncture in the Pervins’ lives, one of Isabel’s old acquaintances, Bertie Reid, a Scottish barrister, arrives for a visit. He and Isabel have shared a cerebral friendship—an instinctive understanding—since childhood, and Isabel is eager to renew their sprightly conversation and become involved with someone who is actively participating in a social flow. Reid is almost a polar opposite of Maurice, witty, quick, and ironical in contrast to Maurice’s more direct, methodical manner. He is also small, thin, and wispy, whereas Maurice exudes strength and has a prepossessing physical presence. Although the two men have never gotten along, they are willing to try to establish some kind of friendship for Isabel’s sake. She has a feeling that they should get on together, but many impediments prevent this.
When Reid arrives, he and Isabel immediately resume an easy familiarity that tends to exclude Maurice. Reid is both fascinated and repulsed by Maurice and his wound, and Isabel is torn...
(The entire section is 950 words.)