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‘we that are left review: can the british manor house survive? – the washington post

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The tragedy that sets these changes in motion is the death in action of young Theo Melville in Flanders just before Christmas 1915. On a practical level, the news is bad for Ellinghurst, because the house is now bereft of its only possible heir. And it’s devastating emotionally, in different ways, for each of the remaining Melville family members. Theo’s father, Sir Aubrey, retreats into morose solitude and an obsession with the house, meticulously chronicling its history and agonizing over its crippling tax burden. His mother, Eleanor, turns her grief into a manic long-term vocation. She oversees the construction of an extravagant marble monument to her favorite child on the grounds of the estate and consults one psychic after another in attempts to make contact with him in the spirit world.

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Theo’s two sisters, anguished by their loss and cast adrift by their parents’ self-absorption, travel farther afield. Phyllis volunteers as a nurse at a convalescent hospital in Roehampton, where she gets a firsthand view of the shocking effects of mustard gas and machine guns on an entire generation of English soldiers. Toughened by her experience and defiantly progressive, Phyllis makes plans when the war is over to pursue a career in archaeology. She thinks of Ellinghurst as a retrograde sort of prison and wants nothing to do with the dilemmas of its upkeep.

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