Author: Elizabeth Bowen
First published: 1955
Locale: County Cork, Ireland
Time: Two summer days in the early 1950's
Antonia Montefort, a photographer in her early fifties, the owner of the dilapidated Montefort manor in the south of Ireland. Antonia inherited the manor from Guy Montefort, her cousin, who was killed in action in World War I at the age of twenty. Antonia lives in London but occasionally visits the manor, where she is served by the Danbys: Fred runs the manor farm, and Lilia, his wife, manages the housework in a dilatory way. Antonia, having arranged their marriage, keeps them on the manor out of a sense of responsibility. Capricious and demanding, Antonia is indolent, caustic, and fearful of old age.
Jane Danby, the twenty-year-old daughter of Fred and Lilia. She is the favorite of her father and of Antonia, who has paid for her education. Exploring the attic one day, Jane finds a beautiful Edwardian dress and a packet of letters signed by Guy and tied in white ribbon. The recipient of the letter is not named, but they clearly are love letters and inspire Jane to speculate obsessively about the writer and the woman to whom he was writing. She even imagines that his ghost is present on a few occasions. She suspects that it was her mother, Lilia, to whom the letters were addressed, and Lilia does not deny it but does not read the letters. The mystery is solved at the end of the novel, when Jane burns the letters after discovering that they were not written to her mother. Jane tells Antonia of her discovery, but not Lilia. She then goes off to Shannon Airport to meet Richard Priam, who is coming to visit Lady Latterly, a neighbor. As the passengers descend from the plane, Richard and Jane see each other and immediately fall in love.
Lilia Danby, a woman who was engaged to Guy Montefort when she was seventeen and beautiful. She is now over-weight, discontented, lazy, and ill-tempered. She has been a burden to Antonia since Guy's death because, but for that mischance, she would have inherited the manor instead of Antonia. She continues to dream of escaping but has long since lost the will to do so. She knows that Guy was unfaithful to her, as is her husband Fred, but, at the end of the novel, she seems to have undergone a kind of change, a renewal of energy, and is making an effort to reestablish a closer relationship with Fred.
Fred Danby, the illegitimate cousin of Guy Montefort and Antonia who was persuaded by Antonia to marry Lilia. He runs the manor farm with uncomplaining diligence but not much success for his efforts. His favorite daughter is Jane, but he is fair and civil to Maud, his younger daughter, and to his wife. He is reserved and slow to speak, resigned to his life and accepting of his obligations.
Maud Danby, the twelve-year-old daughter of Fred and Lilia. Maud lives in her own world, like each of the other characters, but whereas Jane's world is inhabited by romantic notions and the ghost of Guy Montefort, Maud's contains an imaginary playmate named Gay David, a parody of Guy. Maud teases and torments everyone in the household with considerable ingenuity, thus provoking responses that help to reveal the thoughts and feelings of the other persons in the novel. She contributes a tone of humor without in any way intending to do so.