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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 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.

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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.


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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...

(The entire section contains 1592 words.)

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