Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 491

Arthur Machin is a big, rugged rugby player who wins a tryout with a professional team, called “The City,” of a grimy Northern England industrial town, population 100,000. He plays well and brutally enough to win a sign-up bonus of five hundred pounds from the committee of industrialists, dominated by...

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Arthur Machin is a big, rugged rugby player who wins a tryout with a professional team, called “The City,” of a grimy Northern England industrial town, population 100,000. He plays well and brutally enough to win a sign-up bonus of five hundred pounds from the committee of industrialists, dominated by Mr. Weaver, who run the team. This money, as well as subsequent bonuses, enables him to buy first a llumber and then a Jaguar, to dress expensively, to dine in upper-class restaurants, and to buy his widowed landlady, Mrs. Valerie Hammond, not only a television set but also a fur coat.

About a decade older than Arthur, Mrs. Hammond grimly and primly mourns the death of her husband, who was killed in Mr. Weaver’s factory in an industrial accident that very likely was his fault. Mrs. Hammond—Arthur, the first-person narrator, usually calls her that, hardly ever “Valerie”—regards her lodger as an intruder who threatens the repose of her insistent grief for her husband. Nevertheless, they are having an affair.

The tortured, destructive relationship between this unlikely couple becomes the central story of the novel. Arthur is not only physically strong but also emotionally relentless, resolved to batter down her reluctance to open her feelings to him. He insists on doubling the modest rent she charges him, rains gifts on her, and takes her and her two children for rides in his luxurious car. She remains the grudging recipient of his favors. Even during their sexual encounters—which she rations—she shows no passion, not even kissing him. She is ashamed to be known in her neighborhood as a kept woman, feeling “dirty” that she is materially dependent on him. They have savage, soul-slashing battles: She is just as determined to refuse him her love as he is to force her to acknowledge it.

When Mrs. Hammond hears town gossip that Arthur may have impregnated Judith, the mayor’s secretary—another footballer, Maurice, is the culpable party—she provokes a screaming quarrel with him and throws first his clothes and then him out. “I only wanted to be left alone,” she insists. “I didn’t want you. I didn’t ask you to come here and push yourself in.” A year after his departure, Mrs. Hammond has a stroke. Arthur attends her daily in the hospital; she is unable to speak and dies after a few weeks of agonized lingering. Her physician attributes the cause of her death largely to her low morale.

Arthur tries to take solace in the community of his fellow players, hut they offer more rivalry than solidarity. Just as he outshone veteran players in his first year, so a youngster, Arnie, now outplays him. His legs, which once enabled him to outspeed opposition, begin to betray him. At the novel’s end, he puts his false teeth into his battered mouth after a punishing game, aware that his time as a sports celebrity is over.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1101

Rugby player for a team called The City, Arthur Machin gets hit in a scrum and loses six teeth. He is taken to a dentist to have his teeth fixed. He is given anesthesia and passes out. While unconscious, he recalls a time before he entered the ranks of professional rugby.

As a novice seeking a position, Machin convinces a man named Johnson to give him a tryout with a professional team. Machin has been living with a Mrs. Hammond since leaving his parents. Mrs. Hammond charges less rent than other landladies, the prime reason he had chosen to live with her. She has two children, is a widow, and is emotionally distant. When Machin tells Mrs. Hammond about his trial, she does not care. She tells Machin that her deceased husband meant everything to her; she still keeps his boots next to the hearth and regularly polishes them.

Machin learns he will be signed with the team but must negotiate a fee for himself. Advised by his teammate Maurice to ask for five hundred pounds plus bonuses, Machin waits nervously in a bar to hear from Weaver and the rest of the committee. Ed Philips, a journalist for the City Guardian, tells Machin not to take his situation too seriously, insisting rugby is only a game. Machin is signed at the salary he wanted.

Weaver drives Machin home in his Bentley and tells him about Mrs. Hammond’s husband dying at Weaver’s factory. While Mr. Hammond was working on a lathe, a file pierced his abdomen, killing him. Mrs. Hammond did not receive any compensation, because the death was ruled a suicide.

Machin tells Mrs. Hammond about the money and discusses how Weaver talked about her husband. Trying to sleep, he hears her crying downstairs. A little later, she comes to his door and asks if he will leave. He says he will stay.

In the narrative present, Machin comes out of anesthesia in the dentist’s office. He is taken in Weaver’s car to Weaver’s Christmas party. Groggy from the anesthesia, Machin tries to find a place to sleep it off and returns to his unconscious reminiscences.

In the past again, Machin buys a Jaguar. Mrs. Weaver refuses to sit in it for five weeks because the money came from Weaver. When they do get in the car, people in the neighborhood watch them. Machin drives Hammond and her children, Lynda and Ian, to Markham Abbey and Howton’s Hall for dinner.

At home, while Mrs. Hammond is making his bed, Machin makes a pass at her, but Mrs. Hammond fights him off. Hammond leaves to continue cleaning, but later Machin and Mrs. Hammond begin an affair. Mr. Hammond’s boots disappear from the hearth.

Later, Machin visits his parents, who reprimand him for losing his ideals. They cite his hanging around with disreputable sorts such as Mr. Weaver, gambling on dog races, and living large with his money, buying cars and clothes.

At the Christmas party in the present, Machin finds himself locked in a bedroom by a teammate. He climbs onto the roof and jumps to the ground. Machin returns to the party and enters a room where Mr. and Mrs. Weaver and Mr. Slomer are talking. Slomer suggests that there is a relationship between Machin and Mrs. Weaver. Machin sees Slomer off and denies the relationship. He staggers home with Christmas presents for Mrs. Hammond and her two children.

Later, Machin is having lunch in the stockyards when he is joined by Mr. Weaver. Mr. Weaver implies that, because of Machin’s relationship with Mrs. Weaver, he tried to have him benched. However, Mr. Slomer overruled that idea.

Mrs. Hammond seems to be adjusting to her role as Machin’s kept woman. She enjoys the car, wears a fur coat, and brings up the idea of getting a television. All the while, neighbors watch, and the pressure of appearances starts to affect her. During a car trip, she tells Machin she feels “dirty” as his kept woman. Soon after, she starts letting herself go, starts smoking, and starts running down physically.

Feeling the emptiness of his relationship with Mrs. Hammond and the strain of being a rugby player, Machin starts thinking of himself as merely an ape performing for others. He visits Mr. Weaver’s home for a talk but finds only Mrs. Weaver at home. He discusses his problems with her. Mrs. Weaver proves insightful, suggesting that Mrs. Hammond probably measures herself against Machin—the successful rugby player—and feels that she suffers in the comparison.

Mrs. Hammond and Machin have a confrontation in her home. She says he does not work. He says he does. He says she does not appreciate all he has done for her. She kicks him out, and he sullies the memory of her husband by mentioning his suicide and saying she must have driven him to it.

Machin goes to the team’s rugby pitch, Primstone, to find he has been left off the team roster. He returns to Mrs. Hammond to pack his things and moves to a rooming house. He moves out of his rooming house and goes to his parents’ house, where, to his surprise, he discovers Mrs. Hammond. When Mrs. Hammond leaves, his mother insists he let her go, saying she is no good for him. After an exchange of harsh words with his parents, his father slaps him. Machin is now living with his parents.

Machin meets Mrs. Hammond twice more. First, he visits her and finds her worn out and sick. Next, he meets her on the street near his new apartment, but she wants nothing to do with him.

Machin receives a letter informing him that Mrs. Hammond has been hospitalized for a blood clot in the brain. He has not seen her for over a year, but he visits her and arranges a private room. He goes to her every night. One night, he sees an insect with two eyes approaching Mrs. Hammond. Machin attempts to kill it, but it skitters away. Mrs. Hammond’s blood clot bursts, sending blood out of her nose. After an operation, she is awake but does not remember the past clearly. She enjoys the flowers Machin sends, holding Machin’s hand, and the sight of her children, whom she vaguely remembers. A week later, she dies. After Mrs. Hammond’s death, Machin continues playing rugby. He grows older and finds the game tougher as his body begins to betray him and as his position on the team is challenged by younger athletes.

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