A house party at Crome is viewed largely through the eyes of Denis Stone. Described by his hostess as "one of our younger poets", he has been invited by Priscilla and Henry Wimbush to join their summer guests. Denis is secretly in love with their niece, Anne Wimbush, who appears more interested in the artist Gombauld. The rather naïve flapper, Mary Bracegirdle, decides to embark on an amorous adventure so as to overcome her repressions and makes unsuccessful advances to Denis and Gombauld before falling for the libertine Ivor Lombard one summer night. The hard-of-hearing Jenny Mullion confines most of her thoughts on what goes on to her journal, in which Denis eventually discovers a devastating deconstruction of his self and fellow guests. Mr. Wimbush, the owner of Crome, has been writing a history of the house and its family, from which he gives two evening readings. His wife is obsessed with alternative spirituality and finds a fellow sympathiser in the prolific literary hack, Mr. Barbecue-Smith. Also part of the party is Henry's former schoolfriend, the cynical Mr. Scogan, who lies in wait for anyone he can waylay with his reductive criticisms of the time and his visions for a dystopian future. After several ludicrous failures in trying to capture Anne’s affection, Denis despairingly arranges to be recalled home on 'urgent family business' and departs on the same slow train that had brought him.
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