An arrogant Victorian architect repairs to a remote English village in 1881 to address pressing structural problems in a deteriorating church. With little respect for the architectural clumsiness of old buildings, John Stannard hopes to make drastic changes to the building but receives considerable resistance from the pastor and local villagers.
All that is required are minor changes to shore up the structure, but Stannard works with a heavy hand, his impatience clear. An early accident in an exposed trench puts the life of a worker at risk, alerting villagers to Stannardís disregard of their concerns. The next few chapters consist of Stannardís arguments with the pastor, Banks, and a local gentleman, Charles Redbourne, Stannard displaying a lack of empathy for his fellow man and excessive faith in his own talents.
Stannard is insufferable, class-conscious and filled with the conceits of youth. Yet the notice of a beautiful young woman draws the architect into a more familiar world, one less guided by principle. Oblivious to his surroundings, John continues to rail against convention, yet he is also swept into an unfolding drama with the attractive Ann Rosewell.
Stannard is at odds with his environment, judgmental with superstitious villagers and unappreciative of the churchís long history, rationalizing his beliefs with impeccable logic. How, then, to account for his immediate attraction to the village lass who appears strangely innocent in spite of her poverty? Clearly, Stannard is trapped in a place outside the boundaries of his limited experience.
Falling ill, the young man drifts between worlds, revealing a past that allows the reader to forgive many of the Stannardís intemperate outbursts. Posterís protagonist is, after all, a man of contradictions, although position allows him the luxury of escaping his environment should the need arise. Exposed as a man like any other, Stannard faces villagers and lover, confronted by his own hypocrisy and shame, the turbulence of his uneasy soul.
Stannardís denouement is a powerful testimony to manís inclination towards denial, a ferocious allegory of reason versus emotion. The rationalization of his conscience is not without penalty, but those confined by poverty suffer far more than a man with prospects back in London. Natureís balancing of events in this novel is, indeed, dispassionate.