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Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Eva Trout is divided into two sections, the first taking place when Eva has not yet inherited the fortune she can expect on her twenty-fifth birthday. Largely ignored by her father and his homosexual lover after her mother has deserted the family, Eva is still mentally a child at twenty-four. Her father’s suicide has left her rich but unable to find any direction in her life. Unable to define what she wants, having little formal education and a very weak understanding of other people, Eva is susceptible to the control of her guardian, Constantine Ormeau, and her former teacher, Iseult Arble.

Both regard Eva as a problem. Constantine feels obligated to look after Eva because of his long relationship with her father and the implied reason for her father’s suicide: Constantine’s infidelity. He despises women and views Eva as an unhappy result of a tragic marriage. Iseult, on the other hand, finds Eva a disconcerting reminder of a more meaningful past. Formerly an inspiring teacher, Iseult is now married to an anti-intellectual who has failed to become the self-employed man he and Iseult dreamed he could be. Eva’s lifelong position at the heart of other people’s mistaken relationships confuses and angers her and results in her rebellion against Constantine and Iseult.

Enlisting the aid of Henry Dancey, a boy of twelve, Eva flees to the south of England to buy a house and wait for her inheritance in solitude. She is happy, rambling through her deserted mansion, bicycling to Broadstairs for minimal supplies, as she eagerly waits for a note from Henry, whom she has commissioned to sell her Jaguar for the ready cash needed to cover expenses until her birthday. Her carefree existence is disturbed by a visit from Eric Arble, who has discovered her whereabouts from Henry. Disenchanted with his marriage, Eric tries to make love to Eva. Although Eva is beautiful, she has little awareness of the effect she has on men, and she is passive in response to Eric’s desire for her. The mood of their evening is further dampened by the appearance of Constantine, who feels compelled to check up on Eva. Resenting the intrusion of both men, Eva promises to live sedately until she acquires her fortune.

Eva, however, makes a decision which is to throw her caretakers into chaos. Although she is capable of imagining great love for a man (she has convinced everyone that she was once engaged to a man who died tragically), Eva fears that she cannot feel. Ruling out marriage for this reason yet wanting a child, she decides to adopt one illegally in America. Eva, fearing that this child might be taken away from her later, leads Iseult to believe that she is pregnant, causing Iseult to suspect that Eric is the father. This suspicion breaks up the Arbles’ marriage and both Iseult and Eric distrust Eva thereafter. Having thus separated herself from all the people in her past, Eva takes her wealth to Chicago to pay for her adopted child.

The second half of the novel begins eight years later when Eva, now thirty-two, is returning to England with her son, Jeremy. She immediately sets out to find the Arbles, to explain the truth. They have moved long ago, however, as Eva discovers when she visits the nearby vicarage, where Henry’s family still lives. There Eva finds Henry, now twenty and keenly intelligent, who immediately sees that Jeremy is...

(The entire section is 876 words.)