Death in Summer

Death in Summer

by William Trevor

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Overview

William Trevor's Last Stories is forthcoming from Viking.

A New York Times Bestseller and Notable Book
 
From the winner of the 1999 David Cohen British Literature Prize comes an unforgettably chilling novel, written with the compassion and artistry that define Trevor's fiction.

There were three deaths that summer. The first was Letitia’s, sudden and quite unexpected, leaving her husband, Thaddeus, haunted by the details of her last afternoon.
 
The next death came some weeks later, after Thaddeus’s mother-in-law helped him to interview for a nanny to bring up their baby. None of the applicants were suitable—least of all the last one, with her sharp features, her shabby clothes that reeked of cigarettes, her badly typed references—so Letitia’s mother moved herself in. But then, just as the household was beginning to settle down, the last of the nannies surprisingly returned, her unwelcome arrival heralding the third of the summer tragedies.
 
“William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence. . . . His skill is very real, and equals his great compassion. With Death in Summer, these two qualities combine in a beautiful and resonant way.”—The New York Time Book Review
 
“Possibly the most perfect of Trevor’s novels . . . Astonishing.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
 
“Beautifully paced and mesmerizing . . . Offering us a compelling mystery on many levels through . . . finely drawn, perfect glimpses of touchingly imperfect lives.”—The Washington Post Book World
 
Nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140287820
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/1999
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 800,898
Product dimensions: 5.06(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, and spent his childhood in provincial Ireland. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin. He is the author of twenty-nine books, including Felicia’s Journey, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was made into a motion picture, and The Story of Lucy Gault, which was shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the Whitbread Fiction Prize. In 1996 he was the recipient of the Lannan Award for Fiction. In 2001, he won the Irish Times Literature Prize for fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as best books of the year, and his short stories appeared regularly in The New Yorker. In 1997, he was named Honorary Commander of the British Empire.

Hometown:

Devon, England

Date of Birth:

May 24, 1928

Place of Birth:

Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland

Education:

Trinity College, Dublin, 1950

Read an Excerpt

DEATH IN SUMMER
by William Trevor

 

INTRODUCTION

William Trevor's fiction is inhabited by characters who suffer from an inner longing and desperation that is heartbreaking. In Death in Summer, his most emotionally resonant novel, Trevor's keen attention to the smallest detail and his subtle hand reveal the tragedy that comes with the inability to love.

Thaddeus Davenant is the last descendant of a distinguished English family and owner of Quincunx House. He has just lost his wife, Letitia, a person of "almost wayward generosity." Yet, despite her compassion and her "Piero della Francesca face," Thaddeus acknowledges that he was never able to really love Letitia. It is Georgina, their baby daughter, who receives all of Thaddeus's attention. He admits he married Letitia primarily out of financial necessity, his own family fortune long since gone. It is this deception, even more than Letitia's sudden death, which haunts Thaddeus throughout the novel.

When Thaddeus and Mrs. Iveson, his mother-in-law, begin interviewing for nannies to care for his infant daughter, their carefully manicured world is invaded by a series of coarse, unattractive young women. Pettie, the young girl who smells of cigarettes, proves unsuitable for the job, but develops an obsession with Thaddeus that will expose the frailties of both characters. Pettie, the product of the Morning Star, a grim institution for homeless children, latches onto Thaddeus, thinking of him as her salvation. The only affection Pettie has ever known came from her sexually abusive "Sunday Uncles" who visited the Morning Star on weekends.

We learn that Thaddeus was equally unloved as a child, ignored by his parents, and is therefore unable to feel love as an adult. Although their worlds could not be more different, Thaddeus and Pettie are both haunted by the same longing. Ironically, when Pettie's obsession drives her to steal Georgina from Quincunx House, their sole chance at understanding and redemption occurs. Thaddeus must allow himself to feel real emotion for the first time and submit to the incredible love he has for his own daughter; Pettie must return to the Morning Star, the origin of her troubles. It is the death she encounters there that will bring her freedom. And it is Albert, her only friend, a seemingly simple young man of unrivaled compassion and understanding, who will ultimately show all the characters in Death in Summer the most hidden human failings.

 

ABOUT WILLIAM TREVOR

William Trevor is the author of twenty-eight books, which include novels, short story collections, a play, a volume of memoir, and a children's tale. Among his many prizes are a 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as Best Books of the Year. His short stories appear regularly in The New Yorker.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM TREVOR

In many of your novels, you show a real affinity for desperate, victimized women. Where does your capacity for understanding these women come from?

The capacity you're thinking of is imagination; without it there can be no understanding, indeed no fiction.

The image of motherhood is pervasive throughout your work, especially mothers who are inattentive or abusive. Why?

I value mothers and motherhood enormously. For every inattentive or abusive mother in my fiction I think you'll find a dozen or so who are neither.

In Death in Summer, there are several allusions to the Lindbergh kidnapping. Was this the inspiration for the story?

No. It's natural for anyone of a certain age who remembers hearing about the Lindbergh kidnapping to recall it when a baby disappears.

How do you believe your own childhood has influenced your writing?

There is an element of autobiography in all fiction in that pain or distress, or pleasure, is based on the author's own. But in my case that is as far as it goes. Descriptions of, for instance, physical pain have to be the author's own experience. He cannot know, exactly, how someone else has suffered in this way. Otherwise, I don't think my childhood—or later life—has had much influence on my writing.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What is your impression of Letitia? What does her kindness toward Mrs. Ferry say about her character? Is she a saintly figure?
     
  2. How does the marriage of Zenobia and Maidment compare with that of Letitia and Thaddeus? Is it a more fully realized relationship?
     
  3. How does Thaddeus relate to women? Is his interest in them simply self-serving? Does he seem to have affection for either Mrs. Ferry or Letitia?
     
  4. What is Mrs. Iveson's opinion of her daughter's compassion? What does she mean when she says, "Letitia's innocence seems just a little remarkable now, and I wonder if the good are always innocent"? Is she being disdainful toward her daughter's memory?
     
  5. What is Pettie's attitude toward other women? We learn that she has been sexually abused by older men as a child. Why do you think she gravitates toward them?
     
  6. How does Trevor use lush, natural imagery to contrast the sparse existence of the characters that inhabit Quincunx House?
     
  7. What is your impression of Albert? What qualities does he share with Letitia? Why is his profession significant?
     
  8. After Georgina is taken, Thaddeus says that "A miracle it has seemed. . . Loving Georgina." What miracles have Georgina's birth and subsequent kidnapping brought about?
     
  9. How are Pettie and Thaddeus similar characters?
     
  10. Is Pettie's tragic death somehow redemptive? Could she have been saved?

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

William Trevor's fiction is inhabited by characters who suffer from an inner longing and desperation that is heartbreaking. InDeath in Summer, his most emotionally resonant novel, Trevor's keen attention to the smallest detail and his subtle hand reveal the tragedy that comes with the inability to love.

Thaddeus Davenant is the last descendant of a distinguished English family and owner of Quincunx House. He has just lost his wife, Letitia, a person of "almost wayward generosity." Yet, despite her compassion and her "Piero della Francesca face," Thaddeus acknowledges that he was never able to really love Letitia. It is Georgina, their baby daughter, who receives all of Thaddeus's attention. He admits he married Letitia primarily out of financial necessity, his own family fortune long since gone. It is this deception, even more than Letitia's sudden death, which haunts Thaddeus throughout the novel.

When Thaddeus and Mrs. Iveson, his mother-in-law, begin interviewing for nannies to care for his infant daughter, their carefully manicured world is invaded by a series of coarse, unattractive young women. Pettie, the young girl who smells of cigarettes, proves unsuitable for the job, but develops an obsession with Thaddeus that will expose the frailties of both characters. Pettie, the product of the Morning Star, a grim institution for homeless children, latches onto Thaddeus, thinking of him as her salvation. The only affection Pettie has ever known came from her sexually abusive "Sunday Uncles" who visited the Morning Star on weekends.

We learn that Thaddeus was equally unloved as a child, ignored by his parents, and is therefore unable to feel love as an adult. Although their worlds could not be more different, Thaddeus and Pettie are both haunted by the same longing. Ironically, when Pettie's obsession drives her to steal Georgina from Quincunx House, their sole chance at understanding and redemption occurs. Thaddeus must allow himself to feel real emotion for the first time and submit to the incredible love he has for his own daughter; Pettie must return to the Morning Star, the origin of her troubles. It is the death she encounters there that will bring her freedom. And it is Albert, her only friend, a seemingly simple young man of unrivaled compassion and understanding, who will ultimately show all the characters in Death in Summer the most hidden human failings.


ABOUT WILLIAM TREVOR

William Trevor is the author of twenty-eight books, which include novels, short story collections, a play, a volume of memoir, and a children's tale. Among his many prizes are a 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as Best Books of the Year. His short stories appear regularly in The New Yorker.


A CONVERSATION WITH WILLIAM TREVOR

In many of your novels, you show a real affinity for desperate, victimized women. Where does your capacity for understanding these women come from?

The capacity you're thinking of is imagination; without it there can be no understanding, indeed no fiction.

The image of motherhood is pervasive throughout your work, especially mothers who are inattentive or abusive. Why?

I value mothers and motherhood enormously. For every inattentive or abusive mother in my fiction I think you'll find a dozen or so who are neither.

In Death in Summer, there are several allusions to the Lindbergh kidnapping. Was this the inspiration for the story?

No. It's natural for anyone of a certain age who remembers hearing about the Lindbergh kidnapping to recall it when a baby disappears.

How do you believe your own childhood has influenced your writing?

There is an element of autobiography in all fiction in that pain or distress, or pleasure, is based on the author's own. But in my case that is as far as it goes. Descriptions of, for instance, physical pain have to be the author's own experience. He cannot know, exactly, how someone else has suffered in this way. Otherwise, I don't think my childhood—or later life—has had much influence on my writing.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • What is your impression of Letitia? What does her kindness toward Mrs. Ferry say about her character? Is she a saintly figure?
     
  • How does the marriage of Zenobia and Maidment compare with that of Letitia and Thaddeus? Is it a more fully realized relationship?
     
  • How does Thaddeus relate to women? Is his interest in them simply self-serving? Does he seem to have affection for either Mrs. Ferry or Letitia?
     
  • What is Mrs. Iveson's opinion of her daughter's compassion? What does she mean when she says, "Letitia's innocence seems just a little remarkable now, and I wonder if the good are always innocent"? Is she being disdainful toward her daughter's memory?
     
  • What is Pettie's attitude toward other women? We learn that she has been sexually abused by older men as a child. Why do you think she gravitates toward them?
     
  • How does Trevor use lush, natural imagery to contrast the sparse existence of the characters that inhabit Quincunx House?
     
  • What is your impression of Albert? What qualities does he share with Letitia? Why is his profession significant?
     
  • After Georgina is taken, Thaddeus says that "A miracle it has seemed. . . Loving Georgina." What miracles have Georgina's birth and subsequent kidnapping brought about?
     
  • How are Pettie and Thaddeus similar characters?
     
  • Is Pettie's tragic death somehow redemptive? Could she have been saved?

Customer Reviews

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Death in Summer 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
oldblack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is, to my mind, the work of a top quality writer. Mr Trevor has really captured a mood and has painted portraits of people who are entirely believable despite being perhaps abnormal, or at least on the fringes of society. Despite this quality of writing, I didn't really engage with the story. In fact, it was almost the opposite. I read it with a real feeling of ...maybe fear? I couldn't stand the way the man was manipulated by the various people (nearly all women) around him. And yet on the other hand, his behavior did seem believable and I could imagine that, given the 'right' circumstances, I could end up in a similar situation myself. Another thing I didn't like about the book (which reflects on my own inadequacies) was the way Trevor would change the setting (e.g. into a dream, imagination, or recollection) without 'explanation', and being a fairly simple person I had to re-read or read closely and carefully to work out what was happening. I suppose I tend to prefer books that are written for a more down-market audience - you know, the Oprah Winfrey audience or similar.
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a man who was married to a very kind woman whom he didn't love. When his wife died unexpectedly, his concerns are centered around finding a caretaker for their infant daughter. One of the applicants for the position becomes increasingly obsessed with this man and the lifestyle that his wealthy wife provided. His mother-in-law's solution to the caretaking problem propels the obsession to a dangerous level.
Cariola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It has been a bad summer for Thaddeus Davenant. His wife--who he married for her money, never loved, but had come to appreciate for her kindness--has been killed in a road accident. Left alone with an infant daughter, Thaddeus advertises for a nanny, but when none of the respondents seem to be acceptable, his mother-in-law moves in to care for little Georgina. But one applicant, Pettie, surprised that she didn't get the job, becomes obsessed with the much older Thaddeus, his sad story, and his privileged lifestyle. Although they come from two different worlds, Thaddeus and Pettie have one thing in common: an inability to love, at least in a normal way. Thaddeus's upper class parents were distant and critical while Pettie, raised in an orphanage, only knew the kind of love extended by a "Sunday uncle." Surprised by his own feelings for his new daughter, Thaddeus begins to open his heart and to feel for others, including Pettie and a former mistress who calls him to her deathbed. Pettie's obsession, however, takes them all into darker, more dangerous territory.Trevor is a master at depicting the broad divide between the upper and lower classes as well as the depths of the human heart and the psychological effects of a loveless childhood. Part of his mastery is that he is able to unfold all this subtly, without whacking his readers over the head with a purpose and a moral. While Death in Summer may not be his best novel, it is certainly worth reading.
wbwilburn5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I believe William Trevor is a brilliant writer who shows us the importance of the mundane.
mmhubbell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After the death of Thaddeus Davenant's young wife and the ensuing arrival of his mother-in-law, they must attempt to get along and hire a nanny for the baby girl. All the applicants are turned away, so the grandmother moves in to take over. Pettie, one of the applicants who is a tough girl with a dark past, will not accept no for an answer and becomes obsessed with Thaddeus. She carries out her plot to get back into his life, but her plan only complicates and others become involved in her crime.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A chilling psychological novel written by a master wordsmith . Damaged children grow up to be damaged adults .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The master does it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago