Joy of the Worm Summary
by Norris Frank Davey

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Joy of the Worm Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

After a year of working at odd jobs around New Zealand, Jeremy Bohun returns home to reestablish contact with his parents. Jeremy is feeling at loose ends generally, a state of mind that contrasts with his father’s great self-assurance. His father, James, is a Methodist clergyman who takes it as his professional obligation to direct the lives of those around him. To this end, he reads endlessly from theological and classical tomes and as a result projects himself in what he perceives to be an erudite manner. To others he seems merely eccentric, out of date, and overbearing. The result of his dictatorial and rather archaic manner is that his wife has retreated into a shell while John, his second son, has left home disgusted with his father’s senseless pontification, vowing never to return.

When Jeremy first walks into the kitchen of his parents’ home after his long absence, his father mistakes him for John, his favorite, and greets Jeremy accordingly. This greeting comes as no surprise to Jeremy, knowing his father as well as he does, nor does his father’s request that he return to a long-standing practice and read to him daily from Gibbon’s History. In time, the old man hopes, this will create a bond of mutual intellectual curiosity between them.

Soon Jeremy relocates to a small town nearby, where he secures a position with the local government. Taken under the wing of his predecessor, Mr. Greenlee, in whose home he lodges, Jeremy learns the various aspects of his job and settles comfortably into a routine. Another boarder at the Greenlee home, Maisie Michie, captures his interest, and a love affair ensues. Without the knowledge of the Greenlees, who would never brook such behavior under their roof, Jeremy and Maisie begin sleeping together. Jeremy goes to some trouble to furnish a back room of his office suitably so that they can meet there as well. Jeremy’s meager salary is not very conducive to his romantic interests, and he therefore begins what becomes a rather inglorious habit of stealing from the office petty cash.

As this is occurring, Jeremy’s mother is slowly dying back home. James, feeling the part of the long-sufferer, has had the help of one of his parishioners, a middle-aged woman named Queenie Quelch, in seeing to the care and comfort of his failing wife. Queenie first became known to James when she had asked his help in investing five hundred pounds inherited from her mother. Being suitably flattered and using the best means at his disposal, James invested the money in what became a losing proposition. He later reminisces, to his own comfort and gratification, that on the occasion of entrusting her money to him Queenie may have lost five hundred pounds, but she gained a husband, for after the first Mrs. Bohun’s departure from the world, James begins to woo the nurse for his second bride.

Father and son are married on the same day, and both seem destined for happiness. James goes so far as to question whether his first wife really understood him, while Jeremy’s household becomes filled with robust little children. James proves exceedingly virile and active as an old man, but the treachery of self-absorbed intellectual curiosity returns to the Bohun men, who retreat into a realm of reading and conversation that supersedes what they presume to be the mundane demands of job and family. It is as if the pursuit of women animates both James and Jeremy, but following the pursuit it is the love of books that take over, a need for the rarefied atmosphere of cerebral indulgence. James justifies his study as requisite to his job. Jeremy, being more forthright, merely neglects his office duties.

Jeremy is eventually caught in his theft of petty cash: A government auditor easily discovers his dishonest manipulations. Unknown to Jeremy, Maisie approaches another local official, Joe Lavender, for help. She is prepared to offer anything to save her family the ignominy of her husband’s crime yet finds her task easier...

(The entire section is 1,189 words.)