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 about sixty years old, wrinkled, and faded. Overwhelmed by what he considers his consecrated, holy love for Mary, he engages in a series of ploys and ambushes to win back her heart. He convinces himself she is unhappily married and, with the help of her adopted son, Titus, he kidnaps her and keeps her locked in an upstairs room in his house, thereby reducing her to a frightened, whimpering, helpless woman.
Charles’s assembled cousin, friends, and old lovers understand the absurdity of the situation while Charles cannot, and they convince Charles to let Mary return to her home and her husband. Yet this is not a return to reality for Charles, for he develops an intense hatred for Ben Fitch. Charles believes that Ben is trying to kill him by pushing him into a blowhole below his property, where the waves are lethal. To complicate the mystery, Charles is pulled from the blowhole in what seems to him a strange miracle. Although these plotlines are tied up by the end of the novel, Charles does not give up his fantasy of reuniting...
(The entire section contains 638 words.)
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