Book 1, Chapter 4 Summary
During Amory’s last year at Princeton, Burne Holiday leads a campaign to rid the college of all clubs because they are too reminiscent of the class system. His reading of Tolstoy and Whitman has led him to embrace a more socialistic point of view. Although Amory admires Burne, he cannot bring himself to support this viewpoint. Like his feelings for Humbird, Amory’s admiration of Burne is centered on his earnestness. Sitting up and talking with Burne about the clubs, he learns to agree with him, but he does not feel as strongly about it as he did as a younger student. Burne loses prestige among the student body, but this does not bother him. Burne withdraws more and more from the college social life. While Amory disapproves of this self-imposed hermitage, he is equally opposed to the disdain that the other students feel for Burne.
While attending a play in New York, Amory is struck with a vague remembrance. He suddenly realizes he is thinking of Isabelle. On his program, he writes a poem about the experience. As the year winds down, Amory’s friend Alec warns him that he is getting a reputation as being eccentric. Amory does not care, and eventually Alec accepts him the way he has now chosen to be.
Amory visits Monsignor several times during the late winter and early spring, and he takes Burne with him. As he had thought, the two hit it off. Monsignor writes Amory about a young widow, Clara Page, who is near his age and living in poverty in Philadelphia. He urges Amory to visit her. Amory does so and is surprised she is not the impoverished widow he had imaged but is really a beautiful young woman living in an old family home with her two small children and a maid. There are many men who visit Clara, each one hoping to win her hand. Amory soon becomes one of them. He has fallen in love with her and contemplates marriage. Clara, however, informs him that she has never been in love and is not now. She also tells him that she would never marry him because he lacks self-confidence and he masks it with bravado. He always brags how much of a genius he is, but Clara sees it as a cover for his insecurity. He lives his life by his imagination. Amory realizes that Clara is the first woman whom he could see as preferring another man over himself.
America finally becomes involved in the Great War. Amory decides he wants to be either in the infantry or in aviation. Burne, however, is resisting the draft. He is taking off on a bicycle and not joining the war. Amory and Tom walk around the Princeton campus, reminiscing and feeling a sadness that this phase of their life is gone forever.