Context: Amos Barton is one of a group of three short novels, all dealing with the clergy. It traces the career and hardships of Barton during his tenure as curate of Shepperton. Barton is a dedicated man of unprepossessing appearance and is anything but spectacular; he is blessed with a good wife, Milly, and a large family. Their living is meager and genteel poverty their lot. The influential people of the community dislike the clergyman; his sermons are colorless and unpopular, he is a poor teacher, and they fail to see the underlying goodness of the man. He tries vainly to inspire his congregation and the local coal miners, who are a difficult proposition at best. He and his family must borrow money in order to survive, and his wife is not well. A woman, Countess Czerlaski, who passes herself off as a person of means, moves in with the Bartons temporarily and remains for months. Gossip ensues concerning a fancied relationship between Barton and the countess, who is not paying the Bartons any board or helping with any household tasks. The local snobs disapprove of Barton anyway; they feel that he could at least be poor without showing it. Milly is wearing out with the work of caring for her many children, her husband, and her inconsiderate house guest. Eventually the countess is made aware of what is being said about her, and leaves; but the bills she has run up remain, and Milly dies in childbirth. Following this tragedy, the townspeople relent somewhat, but not enough to relieve Barton's suffering. Finally he receives a letter from the vicar: that worthy is coming to Shepperton himself and will reside there. Barton is done out of his curacy, with no prospects of another nearby. The truth is that the vicar wants this post for his own brother-in-law. Barton finds a curacy in a distant county, in a dingy and unattractive manufacturing town, and takes his leave of Shepperton.
. . . There was general regret among the parishioners at his departure: not that any one of them thought his spiritual gifts preeminent, or was conscious of great edification from his ministry. But his recent troubles had called out their better sympathies, and that is always a source of love. Amos failed to touch the spring of goodness by his sermons, but he touched it effectually by his sorrows; and there was now a real bond between him and his flock.. . .The sad good-byes had all been said before that last evening; and after all the packing was done and all the arrangements were made, Amos felt the oppression of that blank interval in which one has nothing left to think of but the dreary future–the separation from the loved and familiar, and the chilling entrance on the new and strange. In every parting there is an image of death.