A few months from the life of the so-called intellectual elite of London. Receptions, meetings, visits, travel… Friendly conversations, fundamental disputes, secular gossip, family and love troubles… In music, a kind of polyphony is called a counterpoint, in which all the voices are equal. And this principle is observed in the novel Huxley. There are no main characters, there is no single storyline, the main content is in the stories about each of the characters and in their conversations with other characters.
With most of the characters we meet at Tantamount House, whose hostess, Hilda Tantemount, arranges a musical evening. She – a high-society lady, who has a unique ability to piss off unsuitable interlocutors. She likes, for example, to plant an artist and a critic next to him, who wrote a devastating article about his paintings. She married Lord Edward Tantemount, because she was able to demonstrate for several months in a lively interest in the biology that had become the life affair of Lord Edward. “Lord Edward was a child, a fossil boy in the guise of an elderly man.” Intellectually, in the laboratory, he understood the phenomena of sex, but in life he remained a fossil infant of the Victorian age. ” Hilda had enough of his wealth and position, and Hilda’s sensual pleasures were with her lover, the artist John Bidlake.
John Bidlake was a man who “knew how to laugh, knew how to work, was able to eat, drink and deprive of innocence.” And the best of his paintings were a hymn of sensuality. Now it’s the old man, and the patient, he gradually loses the ability to enjoy what he valued all his life.
His son Walter is a young man looking for his ideal woman. A few years ago he fell in love with a married lady, Marjorie Carling, whom he called “the sphinx” for her mysterious silence. Now, taking her away from her husband and having lived with her together, he is inclined to think that Marjorie’s husband was right, calling her “trouser” or “fish.” Marjorie is pregnant from Walter, and he does not know how to get rid of it, because he is in love with another – in the daughter of the Tantemount Lucy, a widowed woman of twenty-eight. Lucy loves entertainment, social life, vanity, but understands that all the pleasures can quickly get bored, unless you make them sharper and more diverse.
In the evening, Everard Webley, the founder and leader of the nationalist organization Union of Free Brits, the toy Mussolini, as his assistant Lord Edward Illidge calls him, a man from the bottom, whose communist convictions are primarily caused by anger at the world of the rich and fortunate, also comes to the Tantemountes.
Here, for the first time, we meet with Denis Barlep, editor of the Literary World magazine, in which Walter Bidlake also serves. Walter’s father once very aptly called Barlep “a cross between a cinematic villain and Saint Anthony of Padua in the depiction of an artist of the 17th century as a cross between a sharper and a saint.”
After the musical evening, Lucy drags Walter along to Sbiza’s restaurant, where she meets her friends. Walter really wants to take Lucy to a quiet place and spend the rest of the evening with her alone, but he is too timid, and Lucy believes that if he behaves like a beaten dog, then it should be treated with him.
In the restaurant they are waiting for Mark and Mary Rampion and Spandrell. Mark and Mary are an extremely harmonious couple. He is from the lower classes, and Mary is from a wealthy bourgeois family. They met in their youth, and Mary put a lot of effort to prove to him that true love is higher than class prejudices. Years passed, Mark became a writer and an artist, and from Mary turned out to be not only an excellent wife, but also a devoted friend.
Maurice Spandrell – disappointed in life, bilious young man. His childhood was cloudless, his mother adored him, and he loved her. But she did not forgive her mother’s marriage to General Neulem, and this wound remained with him for life.
In London, Philip Quarles returns to London – and his wife Elinor, the daughter of John Bidlake, Philip (and this hero is largely autobiographical) is a writer. He is a clever, observant person, but perhaps... too cold and rational. He perfectly knows how to communicate in “his native intellectual language of ideas,” but in everyday life he feels himself a stranger. And Elinor, with her inherited from her father’s intuition, the gift of understanding people, was with him as it were an interpreter. She was tired sometimes because her husband recognized only intellectual communication, but, loving him, did not give up trying to enter into emotional contact with him.
In England, Elinor meets with his longtime fan Everard Webley. Not that she really likes her, but she is flattered by the passion she wakes in this misogynist, who believes that women only take away the energy they need for important men’s affairs. She tells Philip that Webley is in love with her, but he is too busy thinking about his new book, the modern “Bestiary”, and, confident that Elinor Webley does not like, immediately forgets about it. But Elinor continues to take Everard’s courtship, after one appointment follows another, and Elinor understands that the next must be decisive.
Webley must call on her before dinner. But Elinor receives a telegram saying that her son Phil was seriously ill in Gattingen. She asks Spandrell, who looked to her, to warn Webley that the meeting will not take place, asks her to give her husband the keys to the house and leaves. And Spandrell comes to mind the devil’s plan.
Life has long bored Spandrell. He never survived the betrayal of his mother and always, as if to spite her, chose the worst road, let loose his most bad instincts. And now he sees the opportunity to do something definitively and not terribly awful. Remembering that Illidge hates both Webley and the “Union of Free Brits”, Spandrell takes him to his partner. The two of them wait for Webley in Quarles’s apartment and kill him. The army of hateful Illiju of free British remains without the leader.
Illidge, unable to recover from the shock, leaves for the village to her mother. Spandrell every morning with genuine pleasure reads articles about the mysterious murder of Webley. But he never found what he was looking for. There is neither God nor the devil. “Everything that happens to a person,” he says to Philip Quarles, “looks like him, I’m closer to living in a garbage dump.” Whatever I did, wherever I tried to leave, I always get into the trash. “
Spandrell sends a letter to the “Union of Free British” in which he tells where the murderer Webley, who is armed and ready for anything, will be at five o’clock in the evening, and calls his address. At the same time he invites the Rampions, listen to the Beethoven quartet on the gramophone, the music in which he finally heard the incontrovertible proof of “the existence of a mass of things – God, soul, good.” The music “miraculously reconciles the irreconcilable – a transitory life and eternal peace” sounds, and at this time three Webley’s companions knock on the door. Spandrell opens the door, shoots into the air, and they kill him.
Walter Bidlake achieves the location of Lucy, but their romance is not long. Lucy goes to Paris, where she writes letters to Walter, but soon she is carried away by a new whirlwind of entertainment, and Walter remains with the bore Marjorie, who has fallen into religion and generously forgave him treason.
The little Phil Quarles dies of meningitis, his grandfather, John Bidlake, also on the verge of death. Philip and Eleanor are going abroad. “Wandering around the world, not letting anywhere else roots, being a spectator – that’s like you,” Spandrell told Philip Quarles in their last conversation.
The novel ends with an episode in which Denise Burlap gives himself up to sensual pleasures, sanctimoniously disguised as innocent fun for young children, with his landlady Beatrice Gilray. He is happy because he got rid of his secretary Ethel Cobbett, the friend of the late wife of Barlep. She recognized his duplicity and did not “console” in his “undivided sorrow.” But he does not know yet that, having received his letter, in which he delicately informs her that the staff of the journal was cut and he is forced to sack her, of course, with the best recommendations, she wrote him a pejorative letter of twelve pages, then lay down on floor near the gas stove and opened the gas.