Maurice (Shelley) - Plot Summary

Plot Summary

In "Part I", a traveller arrives in Torquay, Devonshire. He sees a funeral procession passing by and notices a beautiful, distressed young boy taking part. The traveller goes to a local inn, where a countryman tells the story of Maurice and the late-dead Old Barnet. Old Barnet was a fisherman married to Dame Barnet. She had died a little over a year ago and Old Barnet was distraught; he had no wife to come home to. One day, Maurice showed up and volunteered to help him out around the house while he was out fishing. Poor and sickly, Maurice could not perform difficult tasks, but he was diligent. Old Barnet grew to love Maurice, as did the villagers.

"Part II" opens with Old Barnet's brother informing Maurice that he must leave the cottage after one week. Maurice spends his days mourning the fisherman. One day the traveller returns to the village and seeks out Maurice; he stops at the cottage and asks to stay the night. He and Maurice talk and Maurice tells of his plans to leave the cottage and find work on a farm. He also tells the traveller of his poor family and how he does not want to be a bother to them, revealing that his father used to beat him because he did not believe Maurice was really ill. The traveller and Maurice sit together, enjoying nature, and discuss the pleasures of country life and reading. The traveller offers to care for Maurice and to educate him.

The traveller explains in "Part III" how he is the son of an Oxford mathematics professor. When young, he loved to read outdoors and wanted to know how the world worked. He became an architect and travelled throughout Europe. Eventually he married a lovely woman with whom he had a son, Henry. One day the couple left their son with his nurse during an outing and she fell asleep. When they returned, their son was gone, and he could not be found. The traveller spent years searching the countryside for his son; one day he met the woman, Dame Smithson, who had stolen his son. To please her sailor husband who wanted a child, she lied to him and said she was pregnant. Before his return, she needed a child, so she stole the traveller's. Unused to the harsh life of a peasant, the child suffered and became sickly. As a result, the woman's husband disliked him and beat him, believing him to be worthless. Hearing this story, Maurice reveals himself to be the traveller's son; he had changed his name to avoid the person he believed to be his cruel father. Overjoyed to be reunited with his son, the traveller buys the cottage for him and they return every once in a while. Maurice is educated, grows up, and travels widely. He returns to see that the cottage has disintegrated; he builds a new one for another poor fisherman's family, beside the lot of the old one.

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