The Echoing Grove Summary
by Rosamond Lehmann

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The Echoing Grove Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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Much of the action of The Echoing Grove deals with the effect that Rickie Masters, the protagonist, has on the other characters in the novel. Since an early age, Rickie has carried the burden of expectations of great things. He has obviously deceived others into believing that there is more to him than there is. He says, “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t secretly convinced I wouldn’t come up to scratch,” and he has tried to prove himself by “doing the best or worst I was capable of, and seeing if I fell down on it.” Rickie’s relationship with his wife, Madeleine, and his sister-in-law and lover, Dinah, give him ample opportunity to test his capabilities for being his best or his worst.

The novel’s events are narrated in a mode as complex and fragmented as are the lives of the three main characters. Through flashbacks and limited points of view, the reader is shown how the love triangle takes its toll on all involved. Rickie’s affair with Dinah begins while she is visiting the home of Madeleine, Rickie, and their new baby. Rickie and Madeleine seem to have an idyllic marriage until Rickie steals away into Dinah’s bedroom late at night and proclaims that she cannot marry the barrister to whom she is engaged. She cannot marry because she and Rickie are destined to love each other.

Over the next few years, Dinah and Rickie live out their grand passion for each other in a limited manner because, to all outward appearances, Madeleine and Rickie still have an idyllic life. He is caught in a double allegiance and is torn by his deception as he attempts to keep his promises to all those for whom he feels responsible. Dinah, being a rebel, seems to fall naturally into her role as “the other woman.” She writes a novel, lives in dreadful lodgings, and associates with undesirable characters as she develops a social and political conscience. Her mode of living and her relationship with Rickie wear her down. She almost dies giving birth to their stillborn baby and, on another occasion, attempts suicide. Finally, Rickie announces that he is going to leave Madeleine and become a social pariah with Dinah. He tells Madeleine of his plans, but before he and Dinah can bolt, he suddenly becomes seriously ill with a duodenal ulcer. He is taken to a nursing home and nursed back to health by Madeleine and her mother, Mrs. Burkett. Dinah seems to have disappeared, and it is months before Rickie hears from her again.

He sees Dinah only once more, and it is for the last time. She is in a bad way and asks him for help. He gives her financial help but cannot give her what she needs: him. His loyalty to Madeleine forces him to resist the lure of his passion for Dinah. He is devastated by the experience:. . . how sad he had been to have to show her he had handed back his ticket; considered as pure sorrow it was the worst moment of his life, the very nadir. It caused in him such trouble as might have arisen from the apparition of a revenant, holding up before him all the stillborn freedom of his life.

Dinah wants to place herself under the protection of a strong Rickie, but he cuts her off. She seems condemned to a life without light, a world of “scorching emptiness, like Hell.” Rickie returns to Madeleine, and they make love for the last time. Madeleine wins the battle for the physical Rickie, but his heart still belongs to Dinah. Madeleine is left with a man slowly killing himself for the love of another woman; she is capable only of making him...

(The entire section is 926 words.)