(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel begins in the last weeks of Guy Openshaw’s life. A group of close friends and relatives, accustomed to meeting at the Openshaws’, hover about helplessly as Guy sinks deeper into his suffering and his wife tries to shield him from intrusion. He wishes to see only one of their friends, the Count, and his wife is deeply disturbed not only by his illness but also because he has little time for her although they have had a very good marriage. Consolation of a sort comes to her with the arrival of her old friend Anne Cavidge, who, having lost her faith, has just left the nunnery that she entered fifteen years previously. She moves in with the Openshaws and is a great help to Anne and Guy. Just before he dies, Guy urges Gertrude to live a full and happy life and suggests that she might marry again. He mentions the Count as a possible suitor since they both know that the Count is in love with Gertrude.

After Guy’s death, Anne and Gertrude begin to plan a life together. Anne is unsure about what to do with her life, and Gertrude is equally unsettled but has been left with some considerable wealth, which she is eager to share with Anne. The Count waits patiently and honorably, and it seems obvious that sooner or later he will ask Gertrude to marry him.

What upsets this fragile world of gradual recuperation is the innocent intrusion of a younger man, Tim Reede, who, badly in need of money, asks Gertrude for a loan and is given the job of taking care of the Openshaw vacation home in France. He goes off to do that job,...

(The entire section is 632 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Guy Openshaw, an administrator in the British Home Office, lies dying in his luxurious Ebury Street flat. A coterie of friends and relatives drops in frequently to console his wife, Gertrude. One evening Gertrude receives a call from Anne Cavidge, once her best friend at Cambridge, who for fifteen years was a cloistered nun. Anne leaves the order and returns to the world. Gertrude invites Anne to stay with her at Ebury Street. Guy dies after telling Gertrude that she might consider the Count for her next husband. In her terrible grief Gertrude elicits Anne’s promise to stay with her forever. The Count pays a condolence call, and the two women realize that he is in love with Gertrude.

Meanwhile, the fortunes of young Tim Reede and Daisy Barrett, longtime friends and lovers, deteriorate. Guy, who once administered a small trust for Tim, used to give him handouts occasionally. At Daisy’s urging Tim goes to Gertrude to ask for money. Gertrude, trying to be helpful as Guy would wish, offers Tim a job repairing her house in France. Tim, overjoyed, accepts the offer and makes secret plans to have Daisy join him. He finds the house in a beautiful valley crossed by streams and mysterious stone formations. One day he returns from hiking to find that Gertrude has arrived to facilitate the sale of her house. Tim pursues his painting, and Gertrude tries to take care of business. They explore the countryside together and in one night Tim and Gertrude fall passionately in love. Gertrude insists they must marry, and Tim, overwhelmed by events, neglects to tell Gertrude about Daisy. A few days later, Gertrude’s relatives arrive to whisk her home to London.

Tim rushes back to England and tells Daisy he is going to marry Gertrude. Daisy insists it can be only for money, and when Tim denies this, she throws him out in a rage. Gertrude rushes to Tim’s shabby studio and declares they must keep the relationship secret until her mourning for Guy ends. Meanwhile, the Count receives an anonymous letter, which he shares with Anne, saying that Gertrude is having a love affair with Tim. Confronted by Anne, Gertrude admits the truth; Anne, horrified and jealous, tries to talk her out of continuing the...

(The entire section is 901 words.)