Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1724
First published: 1927
Type of work: Novel
Type of plot: Quasi-mysticism
Time of work: November 20, 1923
Locale: Folly Down, a village in western England
Mr. Weston, a wine merchant and author
Michael, his trusted assistant
The Reverend Mr. Grobe, the rector at Folly Down and a disbeliever in God
Tamar Grobe, the rector’s daughter
Mr. Grunter, a sexton
Mr. Bunce, the innkeeper in Folly Down
Jenny Bunce, his daughter and Mr. Bird’s beloved
Mr. Bird, a teacher of the gospel to animals and Jenny Bunce’s beloved
On the evening of November 20, 1923, an old Ford car stopped on a hill overlooking Folly Down, a village in western England. Within the car Mr. Weston, a wine merchant, conferred with Michael, his assistant, about possible customers in the village. They had a large book that listed the names of the inhabitants, and Michael had detailed knowledge about them, which only a supernatural being could possess. As they talked, their coming was forecast to the village of Folly Down by an electrical sign displayed atop the car.
Down in the village, many people noticed the sign on the hill; they could scarcely avoid seeing it, for it lit up the sky. As the men gathered in the inn for their evening beer, they began to speak of the peculiar sign, but the conversation drifted to the cause of all the pregnancies among the village maidens. Most of the men blamed Mr. Grunter, the sexton, but Mr. Bunce blamed God. While they argued the question, the men noticed that the clock had stopped. Mr. Grunter announced that eternity had come. He seemed to be correct, for all over the village time stood still at seven o’clock.
Mr. Weston arrived in the parlor of the inn and announced his wares. Although no one was interested in buying, they all felt an affection for the man and believed that they had known him somewhere before. When asked if he knew whether God or Mr. Grunter was responsible for the misfortunes of the village maidens, Mr. Weston referred them to Mr. Grobe, the rector, and then went himself to visit the clergyman.
Mr. Grobe was a melancholy man, for the accidental death of his vivacious and pretty wife had proved to him, clergyman though he was, that there was no God. Life weighed heavily upon him that evening; his bottle of London gin was empty. He ordered a bottle to try from Mr. Weston. He did not see the merchant leave a bottle; but after Mr. Weston’s departure, Mr. Grobe found, in place of his large Bible, a vast flagon of delicious wine, a flagon that remained full as long as he drank. Much later, although the clocks still pointed to seven o’clock, Mr. Weston appeared with a small bottle that he said gave eternal peace. After being assured he would meet his long-dead wife, Mr. Grobe drank from the small bottle and died peacefully.
While he was gone from the rectory, Mr. Weston had seen a number of the village people and transacted business with them. He had seen Tamar Grobe, who had looked all of her life for an angel to marry, in whose arms she would be so happy that she would die. Mr. Weston sent her to see his assistant Michael, who waited under an old oak tree, the village trysting place where so many of the maidens had lost their virtue. In Michael’s company, Tamar found happiness there. They went to the church, where Mr. Weston married them and entered their names in the register.
After the couple had gone, Mr. Grunter found the wine merchant in the church. He thought at first that Mr. Weston was the devil, but he soon discovered that Mr. Weston had every right to be there. He agreed to aid Mr. Weston in some further transactions that evening.
Mr. Weston met Jenny Bunce, a simple-hearted girl who wanted only to marry a good man, like Mr. Bird, and care for him as long as she lived. Her father, however, thought Mr. Bird a fool and had said that they could marry only when Mr. Bird’s well ran with wine. Mr. Weston told Jenny to curl up in his car and wait while he went to see Mr. Bird. Mr. Weston found Mr. Bird an honest, virtuous man who preached the gospel to animals as well as men, when they would listen. Like Mr. Grunter and Mr. Grobe, Mr. Bird recognized Mr. Weston. Unlike the other two, Mr. Bird was willing to listen to a chapter from the book Mr. Weston had written long before he became a wine merchant. Mr. Weston recited to him the One Hundred Fourth Psalm.
Then Mr. Weston asked for a drink from Mr. Bird’s well; much to the owner’s surprise, the well ran wine. Jenny Bunce’s father happened along and in his surprise agreed to the wedding. Mr. Weston took Jenny Bunce and Mr. Bird to church and married them.
Two men whom Mr. Weston visited while the clocks stood still were the rascally sons of Squire Mumby. Because they were responsible for the large number of illegitimate children in Folly Down, Mr. Weston took them to the churchyard to see the corpse of a girl who had committed suicide after she had been with them. Failing to recognize Mr. Weston or understand his motives, they left him in a huff. Before they had gone far, they were chased by a wild beast that had hoofs and a roar like a lion’s, a beast which Mr. Weston controlled on a very light chain.
The Mumby boys were so frightened that they ran to the cottage of the evil woman who pandered to their desires. They found two of their victims there and promised to marry the girls. The strange beast walked about the cottage for several minutes. The evil old woman died, crying out that the devil was taking her down to hell.
After the Mumby boys had left the churchyard, Mr. Weston helped Mr. Grunter bury the corpse of the dead girl. The interment depressed Mr. Grunter until Mr. Weston told him to look at the sky. There, among a band of angels, Mr. Grunter saw the dead girl’s soul singing happily. On his way home, Mr. Grunter passed the oak tree that had seen the dead girl’s downfall. Thinking sorrowfully of her life’s end, Mr. Grunter called down a curse in her name. The effect was instantaneous; lightning struck and shattered the tree. The lightning also killed Tamar Grobe, who was lying beneath its branches with Michael. Unscathed, Michael gave a signal, whereupon two angels appeared and carried the dead girl to heaven.
A short time later, Michael and Mr. Weston met and decided that their business in Folly Down was complete. Climbing into the battered old car that had brought them, they drove out of the village by the same road they had come. As they left Folly Down, all the clocks again began telling time. Much to everyone’s surprise, it was only ten o’clock.
At the top of the hill where they had sat discussing the inhabitants of the village some time before, Mr. Weston stopped the car and turned off the motor and lights. Mr. Weston remarked that the beast in the rear of the car might like to return to his element in fire, and so Michael set a match to the gas tank. When the flames died away, everything had disappeared. Mr. Weston and Michael were gone from human sight.
T. F. Powys has said of himself that he thinks too much of God, and this novel, like most of his literary endeavors, reflects his preoccupation with religion. Like his other novels, this one presents a small English village as a microcosm of the earth’s macrocosm. An invalid for a large part of his life, Powys has had to limit his literature to his experience in a small portion of the world. It would seem, however, that his works bear out Thomas Hardy’s doctrine that the humanity of a small district can reflect the universality of mankind. Certainly, the portrayal of the Deity and His attitudes toward the earth and man, as found in MR. WESTON’S GOOD WINE, reflect an unorthodox set of religious doctrines, a position which Powys presents but does not try to justify.
Powys is concerned with not only religious but also social themes. In MR. WESTON’S GOOD WINE, he sought to dramatize the interrelationship of the mystical and the real. Beginning on an ordinary evening, outside a familiar English village with two businessmen conferring about their sales prospects, the novel proceeds into a time gap where the usual gives way to the fantastic and miraculous. It soon becomes apparent that Mr. Weston possesses supernatural powers. Indeed, he is seen as the divine puppeteer, the arranger of men’s fortunes, directing reward and retribution in the microcosm of Folly Down; or as Mr. Weston describes himself: he is the sanctifier and nurturer of man.
The sanctification of Folly Down’s inhabitants is accomplished through the “good wine”; it is the spiritual catalyst, the sacrament, which not only accomplishes the inner regeneration of the citizens but also their social amelioration. When Mr. Weston and Michael arrive, Folly Down’s harmony has been disrupted by the wholesale seduction of the village maidens and their resulting pregnancies. Furthermore, the rector, God’s agent on earth, has been rendered ineffective by a deep melancholy over the death of his wife, which has driven him to despair. Full of sympathy, Mr. Weston grants him a peaceful death, in which he believes he will be reunited with his wife. A God of love, Mr. Weston then permits the erotic desires of both Tamar Grobe and Jenny Bunce. Finally, he brings the Mumby boys, the seducers, to the altar.
During his three hours in Folly Down, Mr. Weston has celebrated, in effect, a Mass of love. Through the agency of wine, he has transformed the ordinary events of life into significant moments, uniting some of the inhabitants with one another in a human communion and others, like the Reverend Mr. Grobe and his wife, in a supernatural union.