British poet Michael Darken is at the end of his tether. His marriage to Jess has fallen apart, he is incapable of writing verse, and he is employed unsatisfactorily as a college lecturer. His sympathetic publisher lends him his weekend cottage, “The Pightle,” in Munding St. Mary’s, Norfolk, for the summer vacation. The village is still curiously feudal, dominated by Easterness Hall, and Ralph, the last of the dynastic Agnew family. Some opposition is provided by Michael’s nearest neighbor, Bob Crossley, a socialist and a stalwart of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Also present in the village, staying at the lodge as guests of Ralph, are Edward Nesbit and his young American assistant, Laura, a talented potter. Edward was a celebrated poet when Michael was young but has since dried up. Michael is drawn into their company and then into their quest, which is to discover what they can of Louisa Agnew, the last link in the Agnew tradition of alchemical research. They already have discovered the crucial date in 1848 when Henry was working on a poetic epic about the Hermetic mystery and Louisa, always his willing apprentice, offered to help by writing a prose treatise, “An Open Invitation to the Chymical Wedding.”
The other narrative strand is Louisa’s, setting out her inspired and dutiful nature while narrating events in the village of the mid-nineteenth century. The most important, in addition to Louisa’s assumed task, is the...
(The entire section is 485 words.)