Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 600
“The Camberwell Beauty” is told by a narrator looking back on his years in the antique trade and those years just following, when he was intimate with all the dealers in southern England. He first became involved with August, Pliny, and the other figures in this tale when he began searching for a rare piece of Staffordshire porcelain for one of his customers. In the process, he met Mrs. Price and her niece Isabel. Some time later, shortly after the death of Pliny’s aged mother, he accidentally meets August, Mrs. Price, and other dealers in a Salisbury pub. They repeat the rumors that Pliny used to lock his mother in her room to prevent her giving away his merchandise and that one night a month he visits his mistress in Brixton. This precipitates an outburst by Mrs. Price against August, during which she accuses him of trying to seduce Isabel.
On a visit to Pliny’s shop, the narrator again runs into August, Mrs. Price, and Isabel. He is fascinated to see the girl write her name, or rather part of it, ISAB, in the dust on an antique table. Later, he reflects that it is sad to see a young girl grow up in the eccentric world of antique dealers. During the following year, the narrator’s business fails, and he is forced to quit and take a job as a real estate agent. He remains sufficiently in touch, however, to hear that August has been sentenced to two years in prison for receiving stolen goods and that Isabel has run away. Passing Pliny’s shop one day, he stops for a visit but finds the store locked. Oddly, he hears what sounds like drumming and the sound of a bugle. Eventually, the rumor reaches him that Pliny has married, and when again he stops in at his shop, he is surprised to find Isabel there, although she refuses to let him come in. His curiosity now piqued, he makes several visits, eventually learning that Isabel is Pliny’s wife. Back in his own flat, he realizes that, like an antique dealer with a secret passion, he now desires Isabel above all things.
Over the next several months, the narrator watches for an opportunity to visit Isabel, and when he does find a chance, he again hears the drum and bugle. Isabel reluctantly reveals that when her husband is gone she dresses in a helmet, bangs on a drum, and blows a bugle to frighten away potential thieves. Feigning interest in buying something, the narrator picks out a Dresden figurine that he knows is expensive and asks if he may buy it; Isabel, pretending to an expertise she does not have, sells it for only thirty shillings. After this, the narrator returns many times, but Isabel refuses him entry.
Finally, just when the narrator thinks he is free of Isabel’s spell, he sees Pliny in a pub with his former mistress and hurries to the shop to see Isabel. When he offers to return the figurine, she lets him in, and he confesses his love. She rejects him, however, saying that Pliny loves her, because unlike August, he does not come to her room, though at night he undresses her and admires her like some rare object. The narrator objects that this is not love, but Isabel remains loyal to her husband. Pliny returns unexpectedly and attacks the narrator, who easily defends himself but loses all chance to win Isabel. He leaves them and walks into the night, where people look odd under the sodium street lamps.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support