Jasper Milvain is an ambitious young writer trying to establish himself as a journalist in London. During a stay with his mother and sisters in the country, he meets Alfred Yule, an experienced and disappointed man of letters, and his daughter, Marian, to whom Milvain finds himself troublingly attracted—troublingly because she is poor and because Milvain has already decided he must marry a woman who can help him in his career. With engaging frankness, Milvain explains to her his ideas about the importance of money in a literary life: It can buy the all-important first success as well as influential friends.
London novelist Edwin Reardon has won modest success with his fourth novel. At this hopeful stage of his life, he also meets Amy Yule, a cousin of Marian, and falls in love with her. Under the impression that he will become a novelist of some distinction, Amy accepts his proposal of marriage. Now, the painfully scrupulous Edwin, who disdains the literary marketplace, finds that he can no longer write work with which he is satisfied; he also comes to realize that he suffers agony even in his attempt to produce marketable copy.
The Reardons are running short of money. The burgeoning reputation of Milvain, a friend of the family, points up the contrast between his energy and cheerful cynicism on one hand, and Reardon’s ineffectual weakness and self-pity on the other.
Alfred Yule has experienced literary struggles at well. As a writer, he has been sincere, and he is by no means untalented, but his old-fashioned ideas about literature, combined with his awkward integrity and lack of tact, have hindered his advance. He is noticeably ashamed of his marriage to a woman from the working class who displays uneducated speech and manners, so he avoids entertaining publishers and critics. Alfred’s frustration vents itself in occasional harshness that disturbs the family’s peace.
(The entire section is 788 words.)