(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Wolf Solent, a thirty-five-year-old history master from London, decided to accept a post in the Dorset village that he and his mother had left when he was ten years old. His father, a teacher in the village school, had carried on several affairs with local women and had died in disgrace years before. When Wolf arrived in the village, Ramsgard, he had the promise of a job as secretary to Mr. Urquhart, the local squire, who was engaged in writing a history of the area. Wolf, haunted by the misery and poverty of the city and anticipating a peaceful existence in the area of his origin, looked forward to establishing himself in Ramsgard, where he planned to have his mother join him.

On his first day there, Wolf called on Selena Gault, his father’s old mistress. She took him to his father’s grave, which she tended with reverence, and praised his father’s force and vitality in contrast to the rigid control Wolf’s mother had always maintained. Wolf went to live with the Otters. There he found himself attracted to Darnley’s sane kindness but repelled by Jason’s erratic conversation and worship of mystic symbols.

When Wolf began to work for Squire Urquhart, he soon discovered that the Squire’s proposed history was simply a chronicle of all the scandals and salacious stories of the county. About the same time, Wolf met Gerda Torp, the beautiful daughter of the local stonecutter. He was attracted by her beauty, which was enhanced by the natural symbols emerging in the long walks that he and Gerda took. He soon yielded to his own animal nature and seduced the girl in a bed of yellow bracken. Soon, following the conventions of village society, they made plans to marry. In the meantime, Wolf also had met Christie Malakite, the daughter of the local bookseller. He often went to tea in Christie’s small, book-filled sitting room. The spiritual attraction Christie held for him was as powerful as his physical attraction to Gerda.

Wolf had been in Ramsgard only a short time when his mother arrived. Because he could find no place for his mother to stay on her first night in Ramsgard, he accepted Selena Gault’s suggestion that he take his mother to the home of Albert Smith, a local hatter. At the Smith cottage, Wolf felt a sudden strong kinship with Mattie, apparently the daughter of Albert Smith. He later discovered that Mattie was, in fact, his half sister, the illegitimate daughter of his father and Albert Smith’s late wife. A young girl, Olwen, was also living at the Smiths. Olwen was the offspring of Mr. Malakite and his own oldest daughter. This knowledge of the animal spirit infusing so much of Ramsgard’s past made a deep...

(The entire section is 1091 words.)