The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This slow-paced tale recounts the mysterious possession of the mind and body of Arthur Lawford, a conventional man who has long lived passively, without inner reflection and deadened to the needs of those around him. There is very little action in the novel. The entire story takes place within a few weeks, much of it within the mind of the main character.

The Return begins as Arthur, a conventional British man, is recovering from the most recent of many illnesses. During a walk in his rural English village, Arthur sits down to rest in a churchyard cemetery, where he is fascinated by the inscription on a badly weathered and broken headstone, noticeably set apart from the rest. Suddenly overcome by weakness, he falls asleep and wakes up feeling uneasy. Returning home, he is astonished to find that he does not recognize his reflection in the mirror. Worse still, Arthur’s wife, Sheila; Ada, the maid; and Mr. Bethany, the vicar, see the change in him but fear that he is actually an impostor or that he has somehow gone mad.

The Lawfords’ young daughter, Alice, is never allowed to see her father in his changed state, but she has several conversations with him in the dark of her room. Her sweetness and unwavering love for him while he is “ill” help sustain him. Arthur’s wife is unsympathetic and so scandalized by the changes in her formerly respectable husband that she goes to stay for a while with a friend, leaving Arthur alone....

(The entire section is 507 words.)