Summary

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 667

Tony Last is married (happily, he thinks) to Brenda and living at the Last family’s ancestral home of Hetton Abbey, an estate that’s seen better days, in the English countryside. Tony has dreams of restoring the old estate to its former beauty and glory, though the Last family has much...

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Tony Last is married (happily, he thinks) to Brenda and living at the Last family’s ancestral home of Hetton Abbey, an estate that’s seen better days, in the English countryside. Tony has dreams of restoring the old estate to its former beauty and glory, though the Last family has much less money than it did at the height of Hetton’s success. They have a young son, John Andrew. Tony is a blissfully clueless and generous man; he does not notice his wife’s boredom, her hatred of the estate, or his son’s growing disobedience. When Tony invites John Beaver to stay at the estate, Brenda begins an affair with him despite her knowing that Beaver is merely a way for her to keep herself entertained. Brenda asks Tony to rent a flat in London, which Tony does, still unsuspecting of Brenda’s disloyalty.

Brenda is away in London and Tony is at Hetton Abbey when news arrives that “John is dead.” Brenda is relieved when, after first thinking it is Beaver who has died, she realizes it is her son instead (some women just shouldn’t be mothers!). As Tony grieves after the funeral, Brenda tells him that she wants a divorce (great timing, Brenda!). Trusting and naive Tony is completely broken when he learns of Brenda’s infidelity, but being the standup guy he is, he also wants to preserve her reputation, so he negotiates her divorce by pretending that he is the one who has been unfaithful and promising that he will pay her a yearly stipend. However, because Brenda’s greed and emotional deafness know no bounds, Brenda asks for a greater sum, an amount that would necessitate Tony’s selling of Hetton. Finally seeing Brenda for what she truly is, Tony refuses to proceed further with the divorce proceedings and decides he will leave the country. He tells Brenda he will legally divorce her when he returns from his travels, but he will not provide her with a financial allowance.

Tony joins up with Dr. Messinger, an explorer who is going to the Amazon to find a lost civilization. When they arrive in South America, Tony realizes that Dr. Messinger is inept and clueless, and the native guides abandon Dr. Messinger and Tony in the rainforest. When Tony gets sick, Dr. Messinger takes their canoe to seek help but ultimately plummets down a waterfall to his death, leaving Tony alone and weak.

As Tony wanders through the rainforest, all seems hopeless until he is rescued by Mr. Todd, an Englishman who claims to be illiterate but owns the complete works of Charles Dickens and who is the leader of a small indigenous tribe in the Amazon. Mr. Todd takes care of Tony, restoring his health, but when Tony is recovered and asks to leave, Mr. Todd repeatedly refuses, instead making Tony read Dickens aloud for Todd’s enjoyment. Eventually, Tony realizes that Mr. Todd is his kidnapper. When a search party finds Mr. Todd’s village, Mr. Todd drugs and conceals Tony and tells the searchers that Tony is dead. When Tony awakens from his drugged state, he realizes that he will spend the rest of his days reading Dickens to his insane imprisoner.

Back in England, Tony’s official death causes Hetton Abbey to pass into the ownership of Tony’s cousins. Brenda, whom Beaver abandoned when he realized Tony wouldn’t provide money with the divorce settlement, marries one of Tony’s friends, Jock Grant-Menzies. The novel ends with the remaining members of the Last family gathering at Hetton. They have erected a memorial for Tony on the estate, and Teddy, one of the relatives,

surveyed his charges with pride and affection. It was by means of them that he hoped one day to restore Hetton to the glory that it had enjoyed in the days of his Cousin Tony.

Thus, we end up rooting for Teddy to succeed at the task Tony was unable to complete.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1064

John Beaver lives in London with his mother, an interior decorator. Beaver is a worthless young man, twenty-five years old, who moves in the social circles of his mother’s wealthy customers. He is not well liked, but he is often invited to parties and weekends to fill spaces made vacant at the last moment.

One weekend, Beaver is invited to Hetton Abbey by its young owner, Tony Last. Tony lives in the old Gothic abbey with his wife, Brenda, and his young son, John. It is Tony’s dream that someday he will restore his mansion to its former feudal glory. Brenda, however, is bored with her husband’s attachment to the past; she finds relief in her weekly trips to London. Beaver’s stay at Hetton Abbey is rather dull, but Brenda likes him and does her best to entertain him. On her next trip to London, she sees him again and asks him to take her to a party. At first, Beaver seems reluctant; then he agrees to escort her.

Beaver and Brenda leave the party early, creating some idle gossip. In a way, the gossipers are correct, for Brenda has definitely decided to have an affair with Beaver. She returns home to the unsuspecting Tony and tells him that she is bored with life in the country. She says that she wants to take some courses in economics at the university in London. Tony, feeling sorry for her, okays her renting of a one-room flat in a building owned by Mrs. Beaver. Brenda moves to London and returns to Hetton Abbey only on weekends.

One day, when Tony goes to London on impulse, he finds that his wife already has engagements. He is forced to spend the evening getting drunk with his bachelor friend, Jock Grant-Menzies. Tony’s escapade bothers his conscience so much that when Brenda returns for the weekend she is able to persuade him to let Mrs. Beaver redecorate in modern style one of the rooms of the old house. Brenda’s conscience also bothers her. She tries to interest Tony in a young woman she brings down for a weekend, but it is no use. He only wants to have his wife back home. He still, however, trusts her and suspects nothing of her affair in London.

Things might have remained the same indefinitely if young John Last had not been killed by a horse while he was fox hunting. Tony sends Jock to London to break the news to Brenda. At first, Brenda thinks that Jock is speaking of John Beaver’s death, for he is out of town. When she learns the truth, she is relieved, realizing for the first time how much she cares for Beaver.

With young John dead, she feels that nothing holds her to Tony. She writes him, telling him everything, and asks for a divorce. Stunned, Tony cannot believe that Brenda has been unfaithful to him. At last, he consents to spend a weekend at Brighton with another woman to give her grounds for divorce.

Brenda’s family is against the divorce and attempts to prevent it. Then, when they see that the divorce is inevitable, they try to force Tony to give Brenda more alimony than he had planned. He refuses, for he could raise more money only by selling Hetton Abbey. The proposal angers him so much that he changes his mind about the divorce. He will not set Brenda free.

Wishing to get away from familiar faces, Tony accompanies an explorer, Dr. Messinger, on an expedition to find a lost city in the South American jungles. During the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, Tony has a short affair with a young French woman from Trinidad, but when she learns that he is married, she refuses to have anything to do with him.

Once the explorers leave civilization, Tony finds himself thinking of what is going on in London. He does not enjoy jungle life at all; insect bites, vermin, and vampire bats make sleep almost impossible. Boatmen take Tony and Dr. Messinger far up the Demarara River and leave them with local guides. Then the expedition strikes out into unmapped territory.

In London, Brenda no longer finds Beaver to be an ardent lover. He had counted strongly on getting a considerable amount of money when he married Brenda; now Brenda could get neither the money nor a divorce. Brenda grows desperate for money. She asks Mrs. Beaver for a job, but Mrs. Beaver thinks that it would not look well for her to employ Brenda. A short time later, Beaver decides to accompany his mother on a trip to California.

Tony and Dr. Messinger at last come to a river they believes must flow into the Amazon, and they order the Indians to build canoes. The Indians obey, but they refuse to venture down the river. There is nothing for the white men to do but continue the journey without guides. Soon after they set out, Tony comes down with a fever. Dr. Messinger leaves him on shore and goes alone to find help, but the explorer drowns when his boat capsizes. Delirious, Tony struggles through the jungle and comes by chance to the hut of a trader named Todd, who nurses him back to health but keeps him a prisoner and forces him to read the novels of Charles Dickens aloud to him. When some Englishmen arrive in search of Tony, the trader makes them believe that his captive had died of fever. Tony faces the prospect of lifelong captivity spent reading Dickens’s novels to the illiterate half-caste over and over.

By the time Beaver leaves for California, Brenda knows their affair is over. No news comes from Tony in South America. Without his permission, Brenda cannot draw upon the family funds. Tony is then officially declared dead, and Hetton Abbey becomes the property of another branch of the Last family. The new owner of Hetton Abbey breeds silver fox. Although he has even fewer servants than his predecessor and has shut off most of the house, he dreams that Hetton Abbey will some day be as glorious as it was in the days of Cousin Tony. He erects a memorial to Tony at Hetton Abbey, but Brenda is unable to attend its dedication. She is engaged elsewhere with her new husband, Jock Grant-Menzies.

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