A Reversion to Type

Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
none in US edition
none in US edition
Published reviews
Gould, Gerald. ‘New Fiction: A Reversion to Type’. Saturday Review, Aug. 1923, p. 196; ‘Miss Delafield’s New Novel’. The Observer, 19 Aug. 1923, p. 4; Rickword, Edgell. ‘A Reversion to Type’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1125, 9 Aug. 1923, p. 532; Symon, J. D. ‘Books of the Day’. The Illustrated London News, vol. 163, no. 4400, 18 Aug. 1923, p. 320.
The Aviolets have lived at their country house, Squires, for many years. Dr Lucian, the local GP, is called to Squire to see Sir Thomas and Lady Aviolet's new grandson, Cecil, who is unwell. Cecil and his mother Rose have come to live at Squires following Jim Aviolet's death in Ceylon. Rose is a tall young woman from a working-class London background; she grew up with her mother in her uncle's house. Lady Aviolet considers Cecil to be spoilt and that his early childhood in Ceylon is a major disadvantage; she does not articulate her plainly felt views about Rose. Dr Lucian pronounces Cecil healthy; Lady Aviolet thanks him for his help, and his previous help getting the troublesome and alcoholic Jim out of awkward situations; she confides in him that Cecil seems unable to tell the truth; he makes up very unlikely stories, but refuses to admit that they are stories. The elder Aviolet son, Ford, is Cecil's co-guardian; he is considered by his family to be clever, and therefore better able to deal with Rose, who is also seen as clever because she is fond of reading. Ford expresses his distaste for Rose, and his own concern about Cecil's lack of truthfulness. Rose finds the impersonal atmosphere of Squires stifling, and the Aviolets find her tendency to discuss personal matters painful. Ford suggests to Rose that Cecil may eventually be sent away to school; she dislikes the idea as much as she dislikes Ford. Rose reflects on her upbringing, her close relationship with her late mother, and the love-affair with her uncle's assistant, Artie Millar, in the pawnbroking business which led to her despatch to Ceylon; she met Jim Aviolet on the boat, and married him very quickly. At Squires, she becomes friendly with Dr Lucien and his sister Henrietta, and shares her frustrations about life in the country. On a visit to the doctor's house, Cecil takes a fancy to a musical snuff-box; after they leave, it is seen to be missing. Arriving at Squires, Lady Aviolet tells the doctor that Cecil has confessed to taking the box, but when asked to repeat this to the doctor directly and to apologise, he refuses. Lady Aviolet is shocked at his behaviour. Rose arrives to apologies to Dr Lucien, and they discuss Cecil's behaviour; Rose cannot account for it, but suggests that Cecil does not really know whether he is speaking the truth or not. She tells the Lucians that she would rather earn her own living, but doubts she could support her son, and anyway the Aviolets are likely to object. Rose is worried that school would be bad for Cecil, since his lack of truthfulness might lead to social ostracism; she is determined that he will not be sent there. Visitors arrive at Squires for a shooting-party: Diana Grierson-Amberley, a cousin of Lady Aviolet of Rose's age, and Lord Charlesbury, a widower with a son of Cecil's age. Diana is a typical countrywoman and Rose finds her dull, but she gets on better with Lord Charlesbury, who is kind to her about Cecil and suggests that his son's prep school, Hurst, would be a good choice for him. Cecil now has a governess, Miss Wade, who despises Rose for not being a lady. Rose confides in Lord Charlesbury that she does not want Cecil sent to school; she also passes on her feelings about Ford and Diana, and he advises her not to confide these feelings to others, as she is likely to make enemies. Lady Aviolet suggests that Ford will discuss the possibility of Cecil attending Hurst, and Rose is angry about being excluded. Dr Lucian is invited to dinner; Rose starts an argument about Cecil's school, trying to persuade the Aviolets that it will be the ruin of the boy if he goes. They are unable to accept or understand her argument, and unmoved by her emotional appeal. Ford and Dr Lucian discuss the issue, and Ford is convinced that school will cure Cecil of his habit of invention. Cecil himself begins to want to go to school; Diana tries to persuade Rose that this would be best for him, but Miss Wade suggests that Cecil should not go to school if he cannot speak the truth, and proposes corporal punishment if the fault persists; this ends with a whipping administered by Sir Thomas. Rose takes Cecil to visit her uncle Alfred in London, against the wishes of Lady Aviolet, who considers Rose a selfish mother. In London, Rose feels at home, but Cecil misses Squires. Rose discusses the possibilities of staying on in London with her uncle, who suggests that she would be depriving Cecil of the opportunities of wealth if she does, and that she could not earn enough money to support herself and her child. Cecil has an attack of croup; Felix Menebees, the junior assistant at the pawnbrokers, fetches the doctor; Felix has begun to dote on Rose. Fetching medicine from the chemist, Rose meets Lord Charlesbury, and he takes her to tea. They discuss Cecil, and Rose confesses that she has realised how happy and well he was at Squires; she decides to return, despite her misgivings. Lord Charlesbury suggests Rose visit Hurst to see the place for herself, and also tells her that Ford is engaged to Diana. Back at Squires, Rose is excited by the details of the engagement, and finds it easier to be friendly to Diana, who hints that she is unsure about her forthcoming marriage, but brushes off Rose's concern. Cecil has a dramatic tantrum when Miss Wade teases him about a drawing, and the governess resigns. Rose goes to Hurst with Henrietta Lucian, and is impressed with the building and Mr Lambert, the headmaster. Mrs Lambert, his wife, is also kind and sympathetic, and understanding when told about Cecil's inability to speak the truth; in Mrs Lambert's view, it is something he will grow out of, and she has seen other boys do so. Rose agrees that Cecil should go to Hurst; she intends to return to London and her uncle while he is away at school. Paying a last visit to the Lucians before she leaves, she discusses a report from Mrs Lambert that Cecil has been caught cheating at a game. Dr Lucian proposes marriage to her, but Rose is determined not to marry again, since her short marriage to Jim was so unhappy. Back in London, Rose meets Lord Charlesbury again, and realises that there is an attraction between them; he calls to see her at her uncle's, and they appear out of sympathy. After he leaves, Uncle Alfred suggests that a marriage to Lord Charlesbury would take Rose away from her remaining family; at a second meeting with Charlesbury, Rose makes it plain that her place is with Uncle Alfred, and that she feels at home there. Dr Lucian helps Rose find a job at a children's hospital. Five years pass, and Cecil is now at public school; he seems, to the Lucians, much changed and somehow frightened; Dr Lucian realises that he is still telling stories, although covering himself somewhat better. Rose is still concerned about Cecil and believes him to be unhappy at school, although putting a brave face on it. Cecil has confided in a young schoolmaster, Perriman, who is also ordained. Perriman has tried to help Cecil, who is shortly to be confirmed, to repent of his errors and to stop brooding over his fault; Cecil comes to him with repeated confessions until the time when he confesses to a piece of dishonesty - copying questions in advance of an exam - that Perriman knows he could not have committed. He believes Cecil to be mocking him and his kindness, and Cecil loses his respect; this convinces Cecil that he is morally degraded in some way, and he is unable to stop behaving dishonestly. Leaving public school, Cecil boasts to a neighbour that he has won a scholarship to Cambridge; Rose is congratulated, and realises that Cecil is no better, although he is much more socially able and superficially likeable. Once at Cambridge, Cecil begins to appeal to Rose and to Uncle Alfred for money. Dr Lucian agrees to go to Cambridge to investigate but the Great War is declared, and his visit is postponed. Lady Aviolet writes to Rose, to tell her that Cecil has asked Sir Thomas for money; Rose wonders why Cecil has not tried to enlist in the army immediately. The doctor goes directly to Cambridge, and finds Sir Thomas there; Cecil has been arrested for stealing silver trophies from other students. He has had them inscribed as if they had been awarded to him. Cecil has admitted this on arrest, but attempts to deny it to Rose, much to her despair; eventually she persuades him to admit what he has done. Cecil is tried, pleads guilty, and Dr Lucian testifies that he is mentally unstable; the judge does not give a prison sentence, but requires Cecil to enlist at once. At the barracks, Cecil writes to thank Lucian for his help, and expresses the hope that he will die quickly at the Front. Uncle Alfred succumbs to influenza, and dies; Felix and Rose are both distressed. Alfred's will leaves the shop to Artie Millar, a life-interest in his savings to Rose, and a thousand pounds to Felix. Felix, rejected as unfit for the army when he tried to enlist, immediately take driving lessons so he can become an ambulance driver. Cecil spends his last leave at Squires; Ford teases him that he should return with a commission, but not too many decorations, implying he would steal them; Rose loses control, and hits Ford in the face. Cecil says goodbye to the family, and tells Rose he wishes she would marry Dr Lucian; he would then feel that her happiness didn't depend on him. Rose returns to the Lucians instead of Squires after seeing off Cecil, and tells them what has happened. She gets a letter from Diana, who has packed up Rose's things, expresses her sympathy, and regrets that they had not been closer friends. Rose tells Dr Lucian that she fears her genes, mixed with the Aviolet strain, have caused Cecil's problems. He replies that it is probably the Aviolet inbreeding that has caused the problem; Ford's dislike of Cecil is because he saw himself in the boy. Rose's love and her genetic material have saved Cecil from being like Ford. Rose agrees, finally, to marry the doctor.
First World War crime education heredity social class