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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1787

First published: 1911

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic chronicle

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Locale: Ireland

Principal Characters:

Mr. Bracknel, a self-made wealthy businessman

Mrs. Bracknel, his sickly wife

Alfred, the sport-loving son of the Bracknels

Denis, the neurotic younger son

May ...

(The entire section contains 1787 words.)

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First published: 1911

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic chronicle

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Locale: Ireland

Principal Characters:

Mr. Bracknel, a self-made wealthy businessman

Mrs. Bracknel, his sickly wife

Alfred, the sport-loving son of the Bracknels

Denis, the neurotic younger son

May, the charming older daughter

Amy, the sensual younger daughter

Hubert Rusk, Denis Bracknel’s tutor

The Story:

Mr. Bracknel, an Irish businessman, was disgusted with his family, for he felt that they all tried to oppose his wishes merely for the sake of displeasing him. The members of his family felt, however, that he was unduly tyrannical. Alfred Bracknel, the oldest child, had a place in his father’s business, but he paid little attention to his work. Instead, he preferred to spend his time and thought on gambling, drinking, and women, much to his father’s disgust. Seventeen-year-old Denis, the youngest child, displeased his father with his interest in everything mystical. Mr. Bracknel prided himself upon being a very practical person.

May, the oldest daughter, gave her father the least trouble, but Amy, a very sensual girl, constantly fell in love with undesirable young men whom her father had to discourage. Mrs. Bracknel annoyed her husband because she was sickly. Although only forty-six years old, she seemed much older, while her husband was still a lusty man.

The entire family thought that Denis was a little mad because of his interest in the occult. He had been sent away to school in England. After his career there had ended in failure, a series of tutors had not been able to cope with him. At last, a physician who specialized in mental cases recommended to Mr. Bracknel that he hire Hubert Rusk, a young Englishman, as a tutor for the boy. The doctor knew Rusk and felt that he could depend on the young man to be careful of the boy’s mental condition.

The girls in the family, particularly Amy, looked forward to the arrival of the young tutor, for their father tried to keep them from social contacts with young men. Even before his arrival, Amy expressed a real interest in Hubert Rusk.

Rusk, a deferential and easygoing man, made himself quickly at home with the Bracknels, all of whom seemed anxious to have him as a confidant. Upon his arrival, he found that Denis had a wide knowledge of occult subjects but knew virtually nothing in other fields. He also found that his charge was an extremely odd young man who had been driven inward by the failure of the family to understand him.

On his first night at the Bracknel home, Rusk observed that Denis went out for a walk late at night. Later, he discovered that Denis, obsessed with moon worship, had discovered an ancient pagan altar in a wood near the house. At the ancient altar, Denis performed ceremonies in honor of the moon, including the sacrifice on occasion of small animals.

Before long, the two daughters of the house became rivals for Rusk’s attentions. Amy, the more sensual of the two, intimidated her sister into letting her have what attentions the oblivious tutor gave. He, on his part, was unaware of the attraction he had for the girls, except that he did not like to have Amy constantly interrupting the lessons he was giving her younger brother. ..FT.-During Rusk’s stay with the Bracknels, Alfred gave his father a great deal of trouble. Once, Mr. Bracknel shipped Alfred off to an office of the business in Switzerland, but he had to bring him back because of the young man’s incompetence. Later, he discovered that Alfred was stealing from the firm to pay his gambling debts. Finally, Alfred married a typist from the office, at which point Mr. Bracknel turned him out, but not without a scene in which Alfred accused his father of being partial to his illegitimate son, who was also in the business. Alfred even thought of publicly revealing the fact that his father had an illegitimate son, for no one except the mother of the young man, Alfred, and his father knew the fact.

In the meantime, Rusk was investigating Denis’ behavior. One night he found the lad actually worshiping the moon, but the boy did not tell his tutor that he had visions, both at night and in the daytime, of the goddess of the moon, who appeared to him and even kissed him. As it was, healthy minded Rusk tried to convince the lad that such behavior was peculiar and not good for his own mental health. Despite his friendship with the doctor, who had requested him as a tutor, Rusk did not tell the medical man of Denis’ visions. Learning that the boy believed the house to be haunted and that he lived in fear, he did decide to enlist the doctor’s aid in getting Mr. Bracknel’s permission to take Denis abroad for a year or two, as an aid to improving the young man’s state of mind. The boy was so frightened by his illusions that he moved his bed from his own room to that occupied by his tutor.

Amy Bracknel, still infatuated with the young tutor, seized every opportunity to throw herself at him; she even had an old woman make up a love potion for her to administer to him. Almost pathologically obsessed, she found him alone in the library one evening and enticed him into kissing her. She then told her sister and her mother that Rusk and she were engaged to be married. Rusk prepared to leave, not knowing what Amy had said but thinking that her sister and Denis had been aware of the embrace. Rusk assumed that Mr. Bracknel would discharge him for making love to Amy.

As it was, Mr. Bracknel heard from Amy herself that she was in love with Rusk and wished to marry him. She also related to her father that she had gone to Rusk’s room the night he had kissed her but that she had been deterred in carrying out her plans by the presence of Denis in the tutor’s room. Mr. Bracknel sent Amy at once to an aunt’s house and made arrangements to have Denis and the tutor leave within two days for a trip to the Continent.

Before the two could leave, however, Mr. Bracknel died of a heart attack, brought on by a heated interview with Alfred in the father’s office. Alfred was glad rather than sorry to come into his own as the heir to the business. Mr. Bracknel’s death was a great shock to Denis, who believed that he had seen a vision of his father’s death. In spite of the young man’s strange behavior, Rusk left him alone at tea time one day. When the lad failed to appear after nightfall, Rusk and the doctor went to look for him. They found him hanging from a tree limb beside the old pagan altar he had discovered.

His pupil dead and preparations for his departure already made, Rusk left the house after Mr. Bracknel’s funeral. Two years later, he had an opportunity to emigrate to Australia. Before leaving, he decided to make a short trip to Ireland to see the Bracknels. He found them engaged in a great deal of social activity. Amy Bracknel was infatuated with a new beau. Alfred had turned the business over to a capable manager. No one paid any attention to Rusk. He realized that he no longer mattered to anyone in that strange family.

Critical Evaluation:

Forrest Reid was a novelist little known in the United States. Like Walter de la Mare, his friend, he found the supernatural inseparable from his conception of reality. Denis Bracknel, in this novel, reflects somewhat the author’s personal experience, for in his imagination, at least, Reid himself lived in a pagan dreamworld not unlike that of his hero; and his interest in such imaginary existence, another reality quite different from the ordinary world, is apparent in most of his fiction. As a beginning novelist, he was influenced by Henry James, but their correspondence ended when James failed to comprehend fully Reid’s first novel. As a novelist and as a person, Reid was poetical and mystical, qualities that are easily discernible in THE BRACKNELS, especially in the character of young Denis, who finds the evil of the everyday world unbearable. In this book, as in most of Reid’s fiction, there is reflected as well the author’s strong interest in the psychology of the abnormal person.

Originally a lyrical tale titled THE MOON STORY, THE BRACKNELS was expanded and reworked into a Realistic novel, keeping the moon story as a subsidiary theme but treating the overall work as a family chronicle. To counteract a tendency to the fantastic and bizarre, Reid rooted his stories in solid realistic surroundings; the setting of this novel, the valley and river, the houses and woods, were all founded on Reid’s own childhood world and are described with poetic intensity.

THE BRACKNELS was the real start of Reid’s career as a writer; it was the first book in which he presented his personal vision of life. It is the story of the development of an unusually sensitive boy, but it is also the story of a family. The complicated plot, greater action, and broader canvas mark it as an important advance over its predecessors. Perhaps the book hovers between fantasy and realism without completely achieving either; later, Reid mastered the difficult task of successfully handling the commonplace and the marvelous in a single narrative; but the first experiment produced an unusual and interesting book.

Denis Bracknel stands out as the sensitive son of a self-made man—an unscrupulous Belfast merchant—and a pathetic and weak mother. Alfred, Denis’ brother, is a coarse philistine, and his sisters are foolish and flirtatious. Denis’ new tutor, Rusk, becomes the most important person in his life, the only one with a sense of the boy’s secret inner life. Perhaps the central scene in the novel is the one in which Rusk sees Denis dancing in the moonlight naked as if performing some sacred rite. The relationship between the two is ambiguous and in a less innocent time might have been questioned. A nightmare quality reminiscent of James’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW pervades the book until its natural ending in Denis’ death. Reid’s publisher insisted on a tacked-on ending in which Rusk returned to Ireland on a farewell visit before setting out for Australia, but in the revised version, published in 1947, this scene was omitted.

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