I for One . . . Summary
by Norris Frank Davey

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I for One . . . Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

I for One is written as a series of diary entries kept by Katherine, a schoolteacher, over the course of the five months following her father’s death. Katherine seems to be in her thirties and lives at home with her mother. The death of Katherine’s father has left both women curiously unaffected, except that it has caused Katherine to take up her diary again after a ten-year hiatus. Katherine is disturbed by her mother’s apparent stoicism and believes it to be the product of a denial of the terrible loss. She is shocked, then, to discover that her mother is, in fact, relieved at the man’s parting, that she had loathed him for years. This is the first of many occasions on which Katherine displays a naivete which both disturbs her and remains her great comfort.

On a rare social outing, Katherine is introduced to Dr. Hubert Nock, an American psychologist who captivates her with his fine manners and interesting conversation. Katherine finds one of his stories particularly moving, a story about a boy who was extremely nearsighted. Not until the boy grew older did people recognize the true nature of his problem, which was easily corrected. Previously, they had thought him simply dull-witted. With his sight corrected, for the first time in his life the boy was able to gaze out into the world, “lost in the wonder of it all.” The clear implication is that Katherine herself suffers from a kind of myopia, a failure to see reality clearly.

A relationship seems to develop between Katherine and Hubert. He, however, is often away for reasons of work, if the reader is to believe what he has told Katherine. On one occasion during his absence, Katherine reminisces about her first love, a boy she had befriended as he convalesced in the local hospital. She had been introduced to him by a nursing friend and felt an immediate pity which she mistook for love. When the boy recovered and departed without any declaration of affection, she was heartbroken. The memory causes her to question once again the nature of her innocence.

Katherine travels to visit her nursing friend, Else, during another of Hubert’s absences. Else shares a house with two old ladies, sisters one a spinster (Miss Drake), the other separated from her husband (Mrs. Ellis-Thomas). Else is away, so Katherine visits with Miss Drake, who, in the course of the conversation, describes how her sister pitifully awaits the unlikely return of her wicked husband. Inviting Katherine to a window to view a man across the way who is obviously shiftless and unkind, she explains how her sister insists that clean linen be kept out in case her husband, a man not unlike the one in view, should return. The wizened old woman makes light of this, expressing the opinion that her sister should be grateful to be rid of “bad rubbish.”

Disconcerted, Katherine leaves in a rush, convinced that the old woman is crazy. Her emotional response is the same as what she had experienced when her mother had offered similar sentiments. For the moment, she wants to believe in love, and although she no longer lacks for examples of love gone wrong, she excuses Hubert when he fails to call for a long while, asking for no explanation.

Something more of Katherine’s character is revealed when she invites one of her students, a girl named Katie Willis, home for tea. Katie is a painfully shy girl, very like what one might imagine Katherine to have been when she was younger. Katie has failed her exams at school, and her mother is sorely disappointed. Katherine explains that although Katie has failed one set of exams, she remains an attractive girl with a wonderful talent for art. She is able to draw highly emotive pictures. When one of these pictures is shown to Katherine’s mother, she is noticeably unimpressed. The similarity to Katherine with her journal is unmistakable. In both instances, self-expression is more private than public and goes unappreciated. Katherine has sympathy for the younger girl but cannot...

(The entire section is 1,143 words.)