Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Dinah considers a poem by William Blake, “My Spectre Around Me Night and Day,” to be about the great theme of her life: forgiveness. In the poem, the speaker asks his love to agree to “root up the infernal grove.” The grove in the poem and in the title of Rosamond Lehmann’s novel is human passion. In essence, the title of the novel is a metaphor for memories of human passion, and human passion is the central theme of Rickie, Dinah, and Madeleine’s story. The need to burn brightly in the flame of the grove or to “root up the infernal grove” is Rickie’s quest. His fate is determined by how he responds to the choice between decency and passion or, in his case, his inability to choose. Relying on his abilities as an actor and liar, he practices the art of deception in his attempt to hold on to both Madeleine and Dinah. He knows that he cannot live without Dinah, yet he is not strong enough to give up his class’s moral code. He gives up Dinah physically but keeps torturing himself until he kills himself. He is a disappointment to his class, his wife, his lover, and most of all, himself. Madeleine and Dinah are haunted by the memory of Rickie and the fear that they may have destroyed him.

Lehmann employs the narrative technique of allowing minor characters to express opinions about and give commentaries on the three main characters’ actions and behavior. The reader thus comes to understand Rickie, Dinah, and Madeleine-and the reader needs to know how other people feel about them, for much of the action of their lives is presented from a limited, subjective point of view. Lehmann in no way apportions blame to Rickie or Dinah. They are positive characters who want to live life to the fullest.