In the English county of Durham prior to World War I, marrying out of one's class is social suicide. But a remarkable man named Robert Bradley bucks the establishment. A carpenter by trade but self-educated and sensitive, Robert escapes conventional marriage, but in so doing falls prey to violence. A chance encounter with Millie, the strange daughter of the castle, brings him into the orbit of the crumbling Thormans. Millie, dubbed ``The Moth'' by the locals because of her flitting escapades, ruins her elder sister Agnes's chances at a suitable marriage. When Agnes, shouldering the crumbling family fortunes alone, finds in Robert a source not only of commonsense but of love, the two of them defy convention. Cookson's (The Bannaman Legacy evocation of a class distinction supported even by its victims is compelling. First serial to Good Housekeeping; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates. (May)
Almost immediately Cookson establishes one theme that she emphasizes constantly: English society before World War I had class barriers. Fewer than 50 pages into the novel, perceptive readers recognize that Agnes Thorman and Robert Bradley will cross those barriers to marry. As Agnes's monetary fortunes decline and Robert's advance, the absurdity of the division grows more apparent. Yet, Agnes's and Robert's affection is opposed by her profligate brothers and his fellow servants. Because the outcome is never in doubt, Cookson must use madness, murder, and sexual suggestion to keep the plot churning. In general she succeeds, but she definitely aims for her readers' emotions, not their intellect. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates. Kathy Piehl, Mankato State Univ., Minn.