To Be a Pilgrim Summary
by Joyce Cary

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To Be a Pilgrim Summary

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

When Tom Wilcher, a seventy-one-year-old lawyer and the owner of Tolbrook Manor, suffered a heart attack, his niece Ann, a doctor, came down to his home at Tolbrook to take care of him. Ann was the daughter of Edward, Tom’s oldest brother and a liberal politician in the early years of the twentieth century. Ann was willing to take care of the old man because the family felt that Tom should be kept away from Sara Monday, his old housekeeper.

While working for Tom some time before, Sara had stolen some of his possessions and the family had sent her to jail. Tom, however, had never regarded Sara’s action as criminal and wanted her found when she was released. He realized that she never had stolen things actually in use but only old relics stored in the attic; he also was aware that she really cared for old things. He revered Sara as an example of the past, as a lover of the old, humane, settled life rapidly giving way to the new society made of textbooks and technology. Tom would have gone to Sara if Ann had not kept a constant close watch over him.

Tom’s nephew, Robert, visited him at Tolbrook and soon fell in love with Ann. Robert was the son of Tom’s wild sister, Lucy, and Puggy Brown, a hypocritical preacher of the Benjamites (an evangelical religious sect), with whom Lucy had run away. Puggy Brown had been unfaithful to Lucy, although she had relinquished family and position for him, because he claimed that God had told him that he should commit adultery with another of his followers. Unlike either parent, young Robert wanted to become a farmer. The agricultural possibilities of Tolbrook fascinated him, and he soon got to work, married Ann, and became a successful farmer. Much to Tom’s horror, he kept his new threshing machine in the famous and beautiful living room at Tolbrook.

Tom had never been interested in farming. He had wanted to follow a religious career, but because his older brother, Edward the politician, had shown so little interest in the family property, Tom had felt obliged to become a lawyer and handle the family affairs and property. His reverence for the past had caused him to follow a career that did not interest him. Despite his objections to Robert’s new scientific methods of agriculture, he was happy when he saw his nephew taking a deep interest in the land. Shortly after their marriage, Ann and Robert had a son, named after her father, but called Jan.

Living in his memories, Tom constantly tried to illustrate the value of the past to Ann and Robert. Having sacrificed his own career in order to keep his family home and property, he lived in terms of his old affections. He also had been the family messenger, running after Lucy when she had eloped with Puggy Brown and following along after Edward’s mistress, Julie Eeles. Julie Eeles had been a graceful, although not very talented, actress. After Edward left her because she could not help his political career, Tom rather inherited her and she became his mistress. Tom, in effect, had always tidied up after his more striking brother and sister.

Another of Tom’s brothers, Bill, was a more settled individual. A stolid military man, Bill had married devoted Amy Sprott. They had two children, Loftus and John. As a boy, John had been Tom’s favorite nephew, but during World War I, John became restless and cynical. After the war, he no longer seemed to care about the family or about any of the concerns for righteous life he had shared with Tom. With slack indifference, John became a car salesman and married a woman who constantly deceived him with other men. After a while, he seemed uninterested in living, and one day, he was run over in the street and killed. John’s death left Ann and Robert the only relatives for whom Tom had any concern.

After a time, Robert left Ann for a farm...

(The entire section is 1,026 words.)