Opening in 1879, Told by an Idiot spans four decades in the lives of the members of an intellectual upper-middle-class family: Aubrey Garden, his wife, their four daughters and two sons, and, as the years pass, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The family saga is intertwined with lightly satirical chronicle of the major historical events and the political, cultural, and social changes of the decades, which also define the four sections of the book under the titles “Victorian,” “Fin-de-Siecle,” “Edwardian,” an “Georgian.”
Mr. Garden is a liberal clergyman whose obsessive quest for the truth takes him through a dozen or more variations of the Christian religion. Mr. Garden, serene, patient, but quietly ironic, follows him loyally through most of his conversions but eventually puts her foot down. “In future,” she says,” shall stay at home.”
When Mrs. Garden dies of cancer in 1903, her husband abandons a temporary flirtation with Christian Science in favor of spiritualism, which help him through his grief, but before his own death in 1914, he has conclude that the only acceptable truth is a combination of all religions.
Mr. Garden has named his children after the symbols of the religion he was espousing at the time of each one’s birth. Rome, his second daughter (named “less for the city than for the Church”), is the coolest and most sophisticated of the family, watching life from the sidelines with wry amused ment. The single love affair in her life is with Francis Jayne, an urbane and witty essayist who is estranged from his Russian wife, Olga. The high minded, nonsexual but very loving relationship between Rome and Jayne is put in jeopardy by the unexpected arrival, from Moscow, of Olga, her mother, and the two Jayne children.
A confrontation of comic...
(The entire section is 756 words.)