Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 907
Mr. Beluncle is essentially a collection of English middle-class characters, comic and tragicomic, in juxtaposition and collision. They undergo no development and engage in little action. What plot there is has three foci: the Beluncle family, the Beluncle-Truslove business, a small furniture manufacturing firm, and the Church of the Last Purification, to which Mr. Beluncle, Henry, Mary, and Judy belong.
The family is introduced on a Sunday, the only time the father is at home for the day. In addition to Henry, there are two younger boys, George and Leslie, and Mr. Beluncle’s senile mother. Basic animosities are soon revealed: between husband and wife, wife and mother-in-law, Henry and George and their father. The source of much of the ill feelings is Mr. Beluncle himself, whose principal idiosyncrasies are crucial to what little plot there is. He is house-crazy: Waking on Sunday morning before the rest, he “again set out occupying residences, sold all his furniture, moved new furniture into... mansions all over England....” His newest obsession is a large, expensive place called Marbella, which he cannot possibly afford (his partner, Linda Truslove, has just told him he is on the verge of bankruptcy)—but the “Divine Mind” of the Purification Church seems to have ordained its purchase. Marbella soon becomes crucial in his relations with his sensible business partner. It also becomes evident that he has a powerful affinity for other people’s money, which he “invests” in his misrun business and personal extravagances; he has “invested” his mother’s, sister’s, and partner’s money, and he is always on the lookout for more to support his impractical schemes and expensive tastes. People are important to him in proportion to their potential as “investors.”
As the slow Sunday passes, Mr. Beluncle is seen tyrannizing over family members. Ethel alternately rages at and resigns herself to her fate. Her husband’s house mania and financial follies have meant many moves as bill collectors have closed in. The Purification Church is another bone of contention. When he offers some religious platitude to justify having his way, she reminds him that she is a “heathen.” Her attitude toward Linda Truslove alternates between outbursts of jealousy, and gratitude for the partner’s stabilizing influence on the firm. Ethel’s domestic tussles with her husband’s deaf, senile mother provide an outlet for her acid-tongued frustration and furnish much of the early comedy in the novel.
Henry works in his father’s business. He is in love—or thinks he is—with Mary Phibbs, a rather ordinary girl whom he hopes to visit after church. The father disapproves of the girl and frustrates the boy’s plans, leaving him resentful and guilt-ridden after the confrontation. Although carried through the novel, the love affair comes to nothing, as Henry is to go to France at the end.
Sunday activities—church, dinner, an automobile ride to Marbella, the father’s latest obsession—bring in the other two boys. The youngest, Leslie, is treated by the family as a kind of court jester, his shrewd and often cutting remarks being good-naturedly tolerated even by the father. The middle son, George, is a bit dull-witted and, unlike the other two, deeply loves his father—who puts him down at every opportunity. Beluncle seems contemptuous of him for not having a job but blocks him whenever a job seems to materialize. Neither of the younger boys plays a significant role in the minimal plot.
The small manufacturing firm in which Beluncle and Linda Truslove are partners is the setting in which the relations of the latter are developed. She came into the business with the death of her husband, Beluncle’s first partner, and fell in love with her self-centered coworker. Plain, sensible, and increasingly embittered as Beluncle’s nature is revealed to her, she cares for her rather demanding crippled sister, Judy Dykes. As Linda Truslove works in the office, Beluncle daydreams about Marbella, bullies his son and other workers, and rushes mindlessly into bankruptcy.
The Church of the Last Purification is the key to what little action there is in the novel. Members are “a healthy-looking collection of clean, smiling people, broad and bummy. . . and . . . dressed expensively.” They are “living examples of prayer promptly answered,” following “a religion I can breathe in,” as Mr. Beluncle puts it. Henry, his father, and Mary Phibbs attend, Henry later losing his faith. Judy Dykes is an ardent though scarcely love-filled member; when she suddenly becomes able (barely) to walk, the church members regard it as a miracle. Actually, the cure seems to have been brought about by the half-mad street-corner “witness,” David Vogg, who had gone to the Truslove home to denounce her as a heretic. In the ensuing turmoil, she fell (screaming, “Kill him”), and the shock seems to have brought movement back to her legs. Vogg later returns to throw rocks at her, uproot the garden plants, and break a window. Judy Dykes soon dies, dulling the brightness of the “miracle.”
The end of the novel comes when Mr. Beluncle’s financial follies bring the expected ruin: Mrs. Truslove being out of town, he commits himself to buy Marbella and begins a huge expansion of the business facilities at a time of business recession. Much is implied rather than stated outright, but apparently his partner brings legal action to recover what she can of her money by liquidation of the firm’s assets.
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