The Circle is set in the fashionable drawing room of Aston-Adey, the Champion-Cheneys’ house in Dorset. Elizabeth, the hostess, has invited Arnold’s mother, Lady Kitty, and her companion, Lord Porteous, for a visit. Feeling awkward about greeting the mother who abandoned him and his father thirty years before, Arnold prefers to talk about his elegant furniture rather than prepare himself for the meeting. As he and Elizabeth await their guests, they learn that Arnold’s father, Clive, has unexpectedly returned from Paris and is on the estate, in the cottage he maintains as his residence. Arnold withdraws from the problem that emerges as they attempt to avoid the embarrassment of having Clive and Lady Kitty meet; he leaves it to Elizabeth to explain the situation. In her discussion with Clive, it becomes apparent that she invited Porteous and Kitty in part because she wanted to see what has happened to the two who for love abandoned all—Lord Porteous, his political career, and Kitty, her husband, son, and home. Elizabeth romantically imagines that Kitty has the soft and unlined look of an aging woman who has been loved. Clive agrees to avoid any unpleasantness by staying out of the way, and Elizabeth turns her attention to another guest, Teddie Luton, manager of a rubber plantation in the Federated Malay States. He discourses on the kind of wife a man needs in his part of the world and then unexpectedly declares his love for Elizabeth.
When Lord Porteous and Lady Catherine arrive, Elizabeth’s romantic illusion is shattered, for Lord Porteous is a gruff, badly dressed old man who complains about his ill-fitting false...
(The entire section is 674 words.)