Handsome, charming Dr. Nick Fraser enlivens the dull, peaceful atmosphere of the library where Frances and her crippled friend Olivia work. Nick is always in a hurry, full of meaningless endearments and light banter, exuding glamour, adventure, and success. The two young women willingly serve him, though he is quite unattainable, as they realize when his wife, Alix, visits the library one day. She, too, has an undeniable aura of power, commanding attention and subservience.
When Alix invites Frances for dinner (at the instigation of Nick, it seems clear), Frances feels that her lonely, isolated, and stifling life is about to undergo an exciting change. She falls in love with the Frasers as a couple; to her, they represent an ideal of pleasure, freedom, selfishness, and imperviousness to the feelings or needs of anyone but themselves. It is an ideal that Frances wants to observe closely and to emulate.
Hardly believing her good luck at being included in the Frasers’ group, Frances quickly becomes uncritically avid for their company; they, in turn, enjoy having her as an audience during their hilarious evenings together, usually in a restaurant, where they attract the amused attention of everyone. Always the observer, Frances studies the Frasers, not always approvingly yet captivated by their absorption in each other, their willingness, even eagerness, to display suggestively their intimacies. Alix is incessantly curious about other people’s lives and exhibits a flattering interest in the facts of Frances’ life. Later, when Frances returns to her spacious, old-fashioned flat, empty except for the silent presence of old Nancy, she writes in her diary and makes notes for a novel.
One evening in October, the three friends are joined by James Anstey, the other doctor at the institute. At first, Frances is somewhat repelled by his distinguished good looks and haughty, unapproachable manner. Yet she senses that they have something in common: shyness, good manners, moral rectitude, and inexperience in...
(The entire section is 833 words.)