Last Updated on May 18, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 639
In Act I, the British poetess Flora Crewe arrives in Jummapur, India, in 1930, and is greeted at the train station by Coomaraswami, the president of the local Theosophical Society. Flora is taken to stay at a guesthouse complete with a veranda and an Indian servant, Nazrul. Flora’s experiences in India are narrated as a series of letters written by her to her sister Eleanor Swan, in England. Mrs. Swan sits in her garden over tea and cake in the mid-1980s with Eldon Pike, a scholar of Flora Crewe’s poetry and editor of the Collected Letters of Flora Crewe, who is gathering information for a biography. After Flora gives a talk and answers questions for the Theosophical Society, she meets Nirad Das, an amateur artist who asks to paint her portrait while she writes. As Das paints her portrait, Flora writes poetry and letters, and the two begin to discuss the struggle of Indians to gain national independence from British colonial rule. In the 1980s setting in England, Das’s son Anish Das has come to visit Mrs. Swan in her garden over tea and cake to discuss his father’s portrait of Flora, which he recognized from the book cover of the Collected Letters of Flora Crewe. Mrs. Swan and Anish come into some conflict in discussing their differing perspectives on British colonization of India, but they remain polite and respectful of one another. In India in the 1930 setting, David Durance, a British official in the colonial government, rides up to Flora’s guest house on a horse and asks her to join him at his Club. In a 1980s setting in India, Pike arrives at the hotel where Flora had stayed, to gather more information for his biography. In the 1930s setting in India, Flora and Das continue to discuss art, politics, and culture, while Flora sits for the portrait Das is painting. One day, overcome by the heat, Flora goes into her bedroom, takes off her clothes, and gets into bed nude, covered only by a sheet. She asks Das, who is embarrassed by her nudity, to sit by her in a chair in her bedroom.
In Act II, in the 1930 India setting, Flora attends a dance at the Jummapur Cricket Club with Durance, and the two discuss the politics of British colonial rule over India. Their discussion continues as they go horseback riding together; Durance then asks Flora to marry him and she refuses. In the same setting, but in the 1980s, Dilip, an Indian man who brings him information about Flora from various sources, aids Pike. In the 1930 setting in India, the Rajah invites Flora to admire his vast collection of automobiles. The Raja then offers to make Flora a gift of a painting. In the 1980s setting in India, Pike is introduced to the grandson of the Rajah, also referred to as Rajah. The Rajah shows Pike a thankyou note from Flora for his grandfather’s gift of a classic Indian nude painting. In the 1980s setting, in Mrs. Swan’s garden, Anish looks at the watercolor nude from the Rajah, which Mrs. Swan has shown him, while Mrs. Swan looks at the watercolor nude of Flora, painted by Das, which Anish has shown her. In the 1930 India setting, Flora returns from the dance with Durance to learn from Das that the Theosophical Society has been suspended due to the political unrest and riots. Before leaving, Das shows Flora the miniature watercolor nude he has painted of her. In the 1980s England setting, Mrs. Swan sees Anish off, and they both agree not to tell Pike about the nude portrait of Flora painted by Das. In another flashback to India, Mrs. Swan (Nell) arrives at Flora’s graveside, aided by Eric, an Englishman (whom Nell later marries).