Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1091
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 impression on Wolf about the same time that he became aware of the conflict between his physical feelings for Gerda and his spiritual ties with Christie. Despite his conflict, he married Gerda.
As time passed, he became more conscious of strange hints and references to the sudden death of Squire Urquhart’s former secretary. He even bought Jason Otter’s Mukalog, a God-figure that Jason associated with mystical and devilish powers. Wolf knew that he really could not afford the purchase, but he hoped that through ownership of the image he could rationally control the strange force of experience around him. Control, however, seemed to be breaking down for Wolf. His marriage with Gerda, a silent and impassive beauty, was not working out well, and he still felt impelled to call on Christie frequently. He suspected that Gerda was having an affair with a former suitor, Bob Weevil, a flashy young man who helped run his father’s sausage shop. Only Wolf’s mother seemed in full control of her destiny as she made careful plans to open a tea shop in the neighborhood.
Albert Smith died suddenly. After a great deal of discussion among the Otters, the Solents, and Selena Gault, Mattie and Olwen went to live with the Otters. There, Mattie and Darnley fell in love and eventually married, while Olwen, having established a closer relationship with her sister, Christie, eventually went to live with her.
Revolting against Squire Urquhart’s pornographic project, Wolf had quit his job on the history and, with Darnley Otter’s help, he secured a job as a teacher. He was in need of money, however, for he and Gerda lived in a fairly shabby house. Therefore, Wolf returned to Squire Urquhart and agreed to finish the history by working evenings. Throughout the winter, Wolf worked hard on the project. One evening, having been told that Christie would be alone for the night, he went to visit her. Although she was fully prepared for his visit, Wolf discovered that, bound as he was to keep Christie in the spiritual category he had created for her, he could not transform his spiritual passion into the physical. He realized then that their relationship would always remain spiritual.
When Wolf finished the history and delivered it to Squire Urquhart, he felt that he should not cash the check because the work had been so cheaply pornographic. Gerda wanted the money for household improvements and could not see his point. She became furious with him. In her anger, she confirmed Wolf’s jealous feelings and had an affair with Bob Weevil. Wolf later decided to cash the check and keep the money, but his decision came too late to heal the rupture with Gerda. After a few months, however, they did achieve a kind of peace without love.
One evening, while drinking tea with Gerda, Wolf suddenly received a telepathic message from Christie. He hurried to her house to discover that old Mr. Malakite had fallen down the narrow stairs. Wolf stayed with Christie until after her father’s death, comforting her and making the necessary arrangements. A short time later Christie, having no further reason to remain in Ramsgard since Wolf’s love for her was simply spiritual, took Olwen and moved to Weymouth. Wolf stayed with Gerda, although he realized more and more that she was a woman still attractive to men and that, having lost her loyalty to Wolf, she was probably having affairs with other men. Wolf realized his failure to master his feelings. Unable to control the forces within him in a sane and meaningful way, he would always struggle in his loneliness to know himself and the world of confusion around him.
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