Told in the form of a diary/memoir, Charles first records his impressions of his new home and then reviews his past life largely through memories of a series of love affairs with various actresses. He also delineates his relationship with his one living relative, his cousin James, a soldier and a Buddhist, by whom Charles always felt overshadowed. Charles receives a friendly letter from James when he is ensconced in his new home, Shruff End, indicating James’s desire to get together. Yet more important than all of these affairs is a schoolboy romance he had with a girl named Mary Hartley Smith, which was unconsummated yet lives in his mind as the most important relationship he ever had. Before Charles was twenty, Hartley (as he calls her) disappeared from Charles’s life and married another man. Charles believes he has never married because Hartley was the only pure, true love he ever encountered.
Although Charles does not get along with the townspeople and in fact becomes a figure of fun to them, he is isolated for only a short time before he is deluged with a series of visits from former friends, rivals, and lovers, which lead to several dramatic scenes and mysterious phenomena. These tangled relationships, however, leave Charles indifferent once he discovers that Hartley, now called by her married name Mary Fitch, lives with her husband, Ben, in the nearby village. His initial encounter with Mary rekindles his desire for her, although Mary is now...
(The entire section is 579 words.)