Milton Place is sort of an update of King Lear—set in the 1950’s. It is partially drawn from de Waal’s experience and is one of two novels published posthumously.
Mr. Barlow, the elderly owner of Milton Place, receives a letter one morning from Anita Seiler. She is the daughter of a girl he fell in love with long ago in Austria, but unfortunately he was already engaged. Anita tells him that she no longer has ties in Austria and would like to come to England, asking him to recommend her to someone for work. He writes back inviting her to stay.
His daughter Emily is a busybody who thinks it’s time he sold Milton Place and moved somewhere smaller where he can be more comfortable. It’s true that the place is cold and shabby, but Mr. Barlow is comfortable in the few rooms he uses and loves his garden. However, Emily is already setting out on a plan to have the county request the house for a home for unwed mothers. When Emily hears about the new house guest, she is certain that Anita is after her father’s money.
Anita and Mr. Barlow get along beautifully, and he wants her to stay. She feels uncomfortable staying as a visitor, so she begins cleaning all the vacant rooms and making the house more cheerful.
Things change, though, with the arrival of Tony, Mr. Barlow’s beloved grandson, on break from university.
One plot line of this novel bothered me a bit. I want to be a little mysterious about it, but my difficulty hinges on how adult an 18-year-old boy is. I admit there is probably a difference of opinion on this, that clearly in the novel there is, and that this idea changes over time. That is, an 18-year-old of either sex is now considered less of an adult than they would have been then, and then less than 50 years before.
This caused a problem for me, but I found the novel beautifully written and affecting.