(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Giles Fox is a librarian (keeper of manuscripts in a London museum) and medievalist who has spent the previous eighteen years editing A Tretis of Loue Heuenliche, an early thirteenth century tract on virginity. Giles’s only ambition is to have the work published by the Early English Text Society so that his scholarship can be admired by the handful of people capable of understanding its significance.

While working on the Tretis, Giles has married Mary, has fathered Tibba, has seen his marriage become a farce as his wife indulges in affair after affair, and has become reconciled with her only for her to die in childbirth. This calamity is followed by others. Giles loses the sight of one eye and then the other. He marries Carol, one of his nurses, and less than a year later, she is struck and killed by a taxi. Through it all, he and Tibba grow closer, he becoming more and more dependent upon her, she being drawn into his life of asceticism and obsession with the past.

Giles has hired as his assistant twenty-six-year-old Louise Agar, whose Cambridge dissertation has failed. Wise Virgin opens as Louise suddenly, after a year of working with Giles, declares her love for him. While a student, she read all of his articles and is the closest he will ever come to having a fan.

A secondary plot involves Giles’s sister, Meg, and her husband, Monty Gore, a master at Pangham, a public school in Wiltshire. Monty...

(The entire section is 587 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Duffy, Martha. Review in Time. CXXII (December 5, 1983), p. 99.

Forbes, Nancy. Review in The Nation. CCXXXVII (December 3, 1983), p. S77.

Gorra, Michael. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIX (November 27, 1983), p. 12.

Prescott, Peter S. Review in Newsweek. CII (October 31, 1983), p. 84.

Rogers, Pat. Review in The Times Literary Supplement. November 5, 1982, p. 1121.