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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 362

The Equations of Love is a book made up of two novellas written by Ethel Wilson (née Ethel Davis Bryant) published in 1952. As usual, when writing a summary it is important to consider various aspects of the text, including title, plot, setting, characters, themes, structure and technique, and the context in which it was written. Reception and biographical information about the artist can be of interest too, but are not always considered essential to summarizing a book.

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For this text, you could begin a summary by considering the two-part structure and how they are connected. The first part is called “Tuesday Wednesday” and its contents cover two days in the life of Mortimer and Myrtle Johnson. They live in Vancouver, where the author herself lived for many years. The story begins with a description of the setting, placing the happenings firmly in British Columbia. It details the routine and details of their life together, Mort’s unexpected death, and Myrtle’s reactions to it.

The second part is called “Lilly’s story” and again the setting is Vancouver, at the start, but later Lilly moves to live on Vancouver Island (first Nanaimo, then Comox), before leaving for Toronto.

In both parts, key themes are relationships (and how people relate to each other) and a study of truth and lies. In the first part, for example, the story told by Myrtle’s cousin Vicky about the circumstance of Mort’s death leads the reader to consider the nature and purpose of being truthful and being dishonest. Indeed the whole portrayal of the couple’s marriage is threaded with the sense that much is not being said or admitted. Lilly is more blatant in her dishonesty, adopting various identities to move through life. While quite different in content, there are connections, then, between the two parts in terms of setting and themes. You could consider the other characters in the two novellas—such as cousin Vicky and Aunty Emblem in the first, and perhaps Mr. Sprockett in the second—to think about how they contribute to the discussion of the themes and what their role is in understanding the messages of the stories.


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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 559

The Equations of Love is composed of two parts, or novellas. In the first novella, “Tuesday and Wednesday,” the action covers two days in the lives of a middle-aged couple, Mortimer and Myrtle Johnson, who live in Vancouver. She does part-time domestic work for Mr. Lemoyne; he does gardening jobs, currently for the Dunkerleys. Mrs. Dunkerley makes a fuss over him until her businessman husband returns, a change which deflates Mort. Stopping for a beer, Mort meets an old friend from the trenches of World War I. They go to the mortician’s, where the man works, and he gives Mort some flowers for Myrtle. Myrtle, however, is angry at Mort for drinking and starts an argument with him, from which she is diverted by the intrusion of a stray cat that she decides to keep.

They begin the next day in a pleasant mood. Myrtle manages not to be too disparaging about the handbag Mrs. Lemoyne has been given for her birthday, and Mort, in quest of a job at a nursery garden, chances to meet Eddie Hansen, a logger and an old friend. Eddie has been drinking and, as they walk along the dock, he falls into the water. Mort tries to rescue him but Eddie pulls him under and they both drown. When the police bring the news to Myrtle, she is furious because she assumes that Mort has met a disgraceful death as a drunk. Her cousin Victoria May (“Vicky”) Tritt arrives and, although she was in church when the disaster occurred, creates a story of how heroic Mort’s death was, thereby mollifying Myrtle.

The second novella, “Lilly’s Story,” also begins in Vancouver. Lilly Waller had a difficult childhood, having been abandoned by her parents after they were divorced. She is now working as a waitress, but after discovering that the Oriental Yow has been using a stolen trousseau to fund the attentions with which he pursues her, she flees to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. There she lives with a Welsh miner, Ranny Griffiths. She becomes pregnant but decides to leave him. For a respectable cover, she acquires another alias as Mrs. Walter Hughes, widow.

Later, taking her daughter Eleanor with her, she moves to Comox and takes a position as a maid for Major and Mrs. Butler, retired from China. She easily deflects a pass by the major but decides to move because, in their house, her daughter will always be merely the maid’s child. She goes to work in a small hospital in the Fraser Valley, where she rejects the attentions of the hospital board chairman and overcomes the passion she feels for the hospital handyman.

She is aware that she is growing dowdy and that her limitations are becoming apparent to Eleanor, whose mind is opening to art and beauty. Eleanor marries a lawyer. While recognizing the love Eleanor and her husband feel for each other, Lilly finds visits to them and her grandchildren empty. Suddenly, Yow turns up to work at the hospital, so Lilly runs away to Toronto. After a complete beauty make-over, she goes to work as a chambermaid. J. B. Sprockett, a widower on business in Toronto, succeeds in dating her, coaxing a partially true account of her life out of her and by the third day getting her to accept his proposal of marriage.

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