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...
(The entire section is 850 words.)