Herself Surprised Summary
by Joyce Cary

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Herself Surprised Summary

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In prison, Sara Monday realized that she was indeed guilty as charged. She hoped that other women would read her story and examine their characters before their thoughtless behavior brought them also to ruin.

Sara’s first position was that of cook in a medium-sized country house. Matthew Monday, the middle-aged son of Sara’s employer, had been dominated all of his life by his mother and sister. Then this rather pathetic man fell in love with Sara, who discouraged his attentions, both because she feared he would cause her to lose her job and because she found him slightly ridiculous. Nevertheless, and somewhat to her surprise, when he proposed marriage, she accepted him.

At a church bazaar a few months after her marriage, Sara met Mr. Hickson, a millionaire art collector with whom Matthew was associated in business. With Hickson’s help, she was able to emancipate Matt from the influence of his family. Partly because she was grateful to him for his help, Sara did not rebuke Hickson when he tried to flirt with her. After Sara had been forced to spend a night at Hickson’s country house because his car had broken down, Matt supported her against the gossip and disapproval the episode occasioned.

Except for the death of their son in infancy, Sara’s life with Matt was a happy one during the first years of their marriage. They had four daughters, and Sara’s time was filled with parties, clothes, her nursery, and work on local committees.

Hickson brought an artist to stay with the Mondays. He was Gulley Jimson, who was to compete for the commission to paint a mural in the new town hall. Gulley settled in quickly, and soon his forbearing wife, Nina, joined him. After a quarrel over a portrait of Matt, the Jimsons left. Soon afterward, Sara visited them in their rooms at the local inn.

In jealousy, Hickson told Matt of these visits, and the infuriated man accused his wife of infidelity. After his outburst, Matt was very repentant and blamed himself for neglecting Sara. The incident, however, caused him to lose all the confidence his marriage had given him.

Sara did not see Gulley for years after this incident. One day during Matt’s last illness, he reappeared. He looked shabby and wanted money to buy paints and clothes. After telling her that Nina was dead, he asked Sara to marry him after Matt’s death. Although she was shocked, Sara did not stop seeing Gulley immediately. While Matt was dying, Gulley repeatedly proposed to her. Finally, she sent him away.

After Matt’s death and the sale of her house, Sara went to Rose Cottage, where Gulley was staying with Miss Slaughter, one of the sponsors for the church hall in which he was painting a mural. Miss Slaughter encouraged Sara to marry Gulley; at the end of a week, they were engaged. Just before they were to be married, however, Gulley unhappily confessed that he had a wife and had never formally been married to Nina. Sara was furious and also bitterly disappointed, but in the end, she agreed to live with Gulley and to say they were married. After an intensely happy honeymoon, they lived with Miss Slaughter while Gulley worked on his mural. During that time, Sara tried to persuade Gulley to accept portrait commissions. Infuriated by her interference, Gulley struck Sara, who then left him. She was glad to return to Rose Cottage, however, when Miss Slaughter came for her.

Although Gulley’s completed mural was considered unacceptable, he refused to change it. When Sara wanted him to repair some damage done to the painting, Gulley knocked her unconscious and left. Having exhausted her funds, Sara paid their outstanding bills with bad checks, and she was duly summoned by the police.

After Sara had thus lost her good character, the only position she could obtain was that of cook at Tolbrook Manor. The owner, Mr. Wilcher, had a bad reputation for molesting young girls and seducing his women servants. Sara, however, pitied him and liked him. Eventually, Mr. Wilcher moved Sara to his...

(The entire section is 1,172 words.)