Dusty Answer Summary
by Rosamond Lehmann

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Dusty Answer Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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Dusty Answer is essentially about a woman as she grows from a romantic and idealistic childhood to a young womanhood that is filled with disillusionment. Judith Earle is the only child of a socially elegant family. Both of her prominent parents keep extremely busy. They travel frequently and have little time for their daughter, who is reared by a governess and who grows close to her next-door neighbors, the Fyfe cousins.

The Fyfes do not live permanently in the house beside the Earles, but throughout Judith’s childhood, some of the cousins are usually there, and Judith is seldom without the companionship of at least some of the five. Charlie and Julian Fyfe are brothers; Roddy, Martin, and Mariella are siblings.

Ultimately, however, with the outbreak of World War I, the Fyfes close their house and Judith, who has no other companions of her own age, spends her time in such solitary pursuits as reading, playing the piano, and exploring nature around her parents’ home.

The novel opens in 1918 as Judith notices that the Fyfe house, which has been closed for some years, is being reopened. This event triggers a flood of recollection in Judith, and through her recollection, the reader comes to know the Fyfe cousins and to appreciate the significant parts they have played in Judith’s growing up. It is revealed that Charlie Fyfe, just prior to going off to war, has married his cousin, Mariella. Charlie is soon killed at the front, and Mariella, his widow, is carrying his child. The shock of Charlie’s death kills his grandmother.

The novel, which is divided into five parts, devotes the first part to flashbacks of Judith’s memories of her childhood and of the Fyfes. In part 2, the Fyfes, except for Charlie, who has been killed, return to the reopened house. Judith is apprehensive about their return, but soon she finds that her relationship with them has grown stronger through the years, and she appreciates their presence.

The Fyfes are largely absent from part 3 of the novel, which details Judith’s student years at Cambridge, where she meets Jennifer Baird, a lesbian, with whom she falls in love. This relationship lasts for almost three years, and when Jennifer leaves Judith to embark on a relationship with Geraldine Manners, an older, quite masculine woman, Judith is left to cope with the first major disillusionment of her sheltered life.

Part 4 takes place in the summer following Jennifer’s defection. Judith is at home and the Fyfes are next door. Judith has an affair with Roddy and finds fulfillment in it. She writes him a love letter. The enchantment, however, is soon shattered by Roddy’s unfaithfulness. Judith visits Martin’s house in Hampshire, and before long Martin has proposed marriage to her. Shortly...

(The entire section is 701 words.)