(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Ivy Gripped the Steps” is divided into three sections: The first and the third act as frames, being short and set in the present, 1944; the second, by far the longest section, contains a flashback to 1910-1912, when the middle-aged protagonist is between eight and ten years old. As the story opens, an external narrator describes the outside of a brick-and-stone house, which once was prominent but which has become abandoned and neglected since the war made Southstone, on the coast of England, part of the front line.

Ivy overwhelms the house, leaving a grotesque rather than a stately impression. Gavin Doddington, having a few days of vacation from the Ministry, has come to see the house where as a youth he visited his mother’s school friend, Mrs. Lilian Nicholson. During his last visit, which took place more than thirty years ago, he experienced a painful awakening regarding his relationship with Mrs. Nicholson.

In the second section, three visits by young Gavin to the prominent house at the seaside resort of Southstone are presented: the first in June, a second in January, and a third in September. As an eight-year-old boy coming to Southstone to shore up his health against the damp climate of his own inland home, Gavin is impressed with the luxury and ease at Mrs. Nicholson’s home. While at Southstone and under the care of the maid, Rockham, Gavin soon becomes enchanted with Mrs. Nicholson, whose life as a beautiful and charming widow of independent means seems constituted of social engagements and leisure. Her life contrasts with his own; his family struggles to...

(The entire section is 654 words.)