(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Set in a small Northeastern community, By Love Possessed chronicles forty-nine hours in the life of Arthur Winner, Jr., a respected lawyer and citizen of Brocton. The title refers to the different types of love—sexual love, parental love, friendship, love for community and church—which play a part in Winner’s life as a man and as a lawyer. The novel opens as Winner contemplates the clock in his mother’s house with the inscription omnia vincit amor. Winner has patterned himself after his deceased father, the “Man of Reason,” and the conflict between love or passion and reason dominates the action.

As the defense attorney in a rape case against eighteen-year-old Ralph Detweiler, the much younger brother of Helen Detweiler, a legal secretary in the firm of Winner, Tuttle, and Penrose, Winner attempts to apply reason and logic to the emotionally charged situation. The case is complicated by the fact that, although Ralph admits having had intimate relations with Veronica Kovacs, a young woman with a tarnished reputation, he also admits being involved with Joan Moore, whom he has gotten pregnant. Winner assures Ralph that the charge of rape will almost certainly be dropped, but the immature, spoiled Ralph panics at the thought of facing a trial and a pregnant girlfriend. He jumps bail and in the process steals money from one of the boarders in Helen’s rooming house. Helen, having reared Ralph since their parents’ death in a tragic boating accident, sees all of her plans for Ralph’s future collapse, and she commits suicide. Winner’s reasoned approach is thwarted by people tangled in passions, and...

(The entire section is 670 words.)