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Plot Summary | GenreCultural Context | Theme or issueAspects of story

Circle of Friends - Maeve Binchy

Plot Summary

This novel deals with the various relationships between different friends who go to college in Dublin. They study in U.C.D. One of the central characters is Benny Hogan who lives in a small village called Knockglen. Her family own Hogan’s Outfitters a big shop which sells clothes for men. Sean Walsh works in the shop and Benny’s parents hope that their daughter will be attracted to Sean and possibly marry him. Benny has no interest in Sean. Benny befriends a girl called Eve who has been abandoned in a convent because her mother was the disturbed daughter of the rich Westward family who married the gardener. Nan Hogan is another student who becomes part of the gang. She is a beautiful looking young woman whose father is an alcoholic and works as a builder. They live in a working class area. Nan is determined to marry well. Early on in the story there is an accident and a young man is killed. He is the son of Kit Hegarty a woman whose husband has abandoned her for a younger girl. She keeps students in order to earn some income. Eve is injured in the accident, but she recovers and pays a visit to Simon Westward in order to get enough money to pay her fees for college. Eve owns a cottage near the Westward home, which has been left to her. Benny is attracted to a good-looking young man called Jack Foley. His father is a doctor and he is the centre of attention since all the girls are attracted to him. They begin a relationship even though she stays in Knockglen every evening. Benny’s father dies suddenly of a heart attack, and shortly afterwards she discovers that Sean has been fiddling money. Sean leaves after this discovery, but remains in the village. He marries a lady called Dorothy Healy.

Nan begins a relationship with Simon Westward and she becomes pregnant. Simon wants nothing to do with the affair after that. Nan then decides to trick Jack into a relationship and pretend that it is his baby. He agrees to marry her even though he is still in love with Benny. Eve attacks Nan in anger and Nan’s arm is injured. She has a miscarriage after that and loses the baby. Eventually she breaks it off with Jack and he tries to become reconciled with Benny. She has changed however and realizes that Jack is too fickle and inconsistent, so she refuses him. The story closes with the gang continuing their relationships. Benny has become attracted to another boy called Bill Dunne.


Genre

This is a novel of social realism written in the third person narrative voice. The novelist makes extensive use of dialogue.


Cultural Context


The social background of this novel is rural and urban Ireland in the mid fifties. The Catholic faith is strong. The religious orders are mentioned a lot and have a powerful influence in the way they cared for people in the orphanages. We get an insight into life in college for young women at this time. There is a lot of time dedicated to socializing.


Theme/Issue


Relationships
This is one of the main themes in the novel. The story deals with the varying relationships between men and women and between college friends in Dublin. Throughout the story we are given a vivid insight into the different types of people who inhabit this world and we learn how they survive through the difficulties.

Women
A lot of the characters in this novel are women. We gain an insight into the representation of the woman in the early part of the twentieth century in Ireland. Most of the women characters are anxious to secure a strong relationship with some man, and virtually all of them are deeply concerned about their personal appearance. The representation of the woman in this novel is centered more on social rather than educational concerns. A lot of the women are keen to marry well and securely.

Loyalty and Betrayal
These are important themes in this novel. Benny becomes friends of Eve who has been abandoned by the Westwards because of the fact that her mother only married a gardener. She is deeply sensitive to how people behave towards her and demands that Simon Westward should pay her fees out of loyalty to her own family. Nan is betrayed later on in the story by Simon Westward who abandons her as soon as it becomes apparent that she is pregnant. Jack Foley a young student is tricked by Nan into believing that she is pregnant with his child, and as a result he abandons his relationship with Benny.


Aspects of story


Tension: Tension occurs in the story when Nan becomes pregnant and confronts Simon with the news that he is the father. This tension is increased in the incident where Eve attacks Nan for trying to seduce Jack
Climax: The climax of the novel is when Nan loses the child and has a miscarriage. Shortly after this she breaks off the relationship with Jack.
Resolution: Jack has been freed of his commitment to marry Nan and tries to resume the relationship with Benny. Benny, however, has matured and seen through the character of Jack. She remains friends with Jack, but it are clear that she is now attracted to Bill Dunne another student.

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