The Beginning of Spring Summary & Study Guide

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The Beginning of Spring Summary & Study Guide Description

The Beginning of Spring Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald.

The Beginning of Spring takes place in Moscow, Russia in the spring of 1913.

On the first page, Nellie Reid, wife of the principal character, Frank Reid, packs up her three children and leaves for England. She leaves a brief note for Frank, his first notice of her intent. The note does not say why she left or if she has any intention of returning.

Frank Reid is an Englishman born in Moscow. His father arrived there in the 1870s to start a business importing printing machinery and died a few years before the start of the story. Frank has lived there all his life with the exception of a few years in England to learn the printing business. Though he speaks Russian fluently, he is still considered an Englishman. When Frank returns to Moscow to take over his father's business, he finds that the only part of the business worth keeping is a small printing plant known as Reid Press. The machinery import side of his father's business had not prospered.

Along with Reid Press, Frank has inherited two key employees, Selwyn Crane, a management accountant and Yakob Tvyordov, a highly-skilled compositor.

Frank receives a telephone call early the following morning from the station master of Alexander Station, (Alexandervoksal) telling him to pick up his three children, sent back by Nellie, immediately. He takes them back to their home at 22 Lipka Street.

Frank is faced with the pressing issue of making arrangements for the children and approaches Mrs. Kuriatin. Arkady Kuriatin is a Merchant of the Second Grade, a distinction of no little importance, who does business with Reid Press. Frank asks Mrs. Kuriatin if his two older children, Dolly, 10, and Ben, 9, could come to the Kuriatin house after school. He could pick them up after the press closed. The third child, Annushka, is only three and a half and can be taken care of easily by Frank's household staff.

Mrs. Kuriatin says "Absolutely!" and urges Frank to start that very day. There is to be a party for her oldest child, Mitka, who has received a dancing bear as a present.

The party is a debacle, and Frank next calls the English Chaplaincy for help. Mrs. Graham, the chaplain's wife, is feared for her strong views on how people should conduct their lives, but Frank is desperate. When Frank arrives at the Chaplaincy, Mrs. Graham is visiting with Miss Muriel Kinsman, a governess recently dismissed from a position with a Russian family outside Moscow. If she does not find employment, she will have to return to England the next day. Miss Kinsman sets new standards for dowdiness, and Frank is not inclined to offer her a job despite her urgent situation. In fact, he departs without mentioning his children to Mrs. Graham. After he leaves, he senses that Miss Kinsman is trailing him through the streets of Moscow. He tries to evade her, but cannot. Finally, he shifts course to encounter her, and she says she is looking for the address of Mr. Frank Reid. Frank realizes that she does not know who he is, ends the interview and returns home.

The next morning, Selwyn comes to the rescue after Frank outlines the situation to him. Selwyn, who always seems to be assisting some poor soul, says that he might know someone who can help. Lisa Ivanova is quite young, perhaps nineteen or twenty, but she holds a responsible position at Muirka's, a local department store. Frank asks him to bring her to the house after Muirka's closes. The interview goes well, and the children seem to accept her. She is quite beautiful, Frank does not like how she wears her hair, in two long braids. They arrange that she will start the following Monday, with the stipulation that she cuts her hair. She appears the following Monday with her hair cut short.

Later that week, Kuriatin asks Frank to dine with him at Rusalochka's, a tea room associated with the Merchants' Club. Frank leaves the restaurant to find Selwyn waiting for him with news that he had noticed a light on at the press. Frank investigates and finds Volodya, a young man who pulls out a revolver and fires a couple of shots. He misses Frank but destroys a tray of type in Tvyordov's frame and puts a bullet through Tvyordov's apron, which hangs near the frame. Frank subdues the young man, who turns out to be a student, and concerns the night watchman who heard the shots. He sends Volodya home, locks up and goes home. He tells Lisa, Ben and Dolly about the encounter. Lisa expresses a mild interest, unusual for someone so quiet.

The next day a police inspector and deputy arrive at the Press. Frank eases their minds about the break-in and raises doubt about whether the night watchman had actually heard shots. The police accept a routine bribe and leave quietly.

A telegram from Nellie's brother, Charlie, arrives announcing his imminent arrival in Moscow for a visit. Charlie is impressed with Lisa Ivanovna but seems confused about everything else. He has no real news about Nellie. She arrived at his house shortly after her disappearance, but left the next day, leaving most of her luggage. He thought she was teaching somewhere. Charlie proceeds to spend time with Selwyn, Bernov, Kuriatin and others, enjoying his vacation in Moscow.

Frank calls again on Mrs. Graham, who is alarmed that a girl of unknown background is sleeping in the Reid house. She asks Frank if it might be possible that the girl is involved in a revolutionary group. Frank puts her mind at ease.

Before leaving Moscow, Charlie suggests that it would be a good idea to take the children back to England with him. Frank and Dolly disagree. Charlie offers to take Ivanovna, believing Frank may be worried about his children traveling alone with Charlie. Frank is even more opposed to that idea, and the plan is quietly dropped.

On Palm Sunday, Lisa Ivanovna takes the children to see the crowds in the streets. Frank gets a call to come to the Security Police. They have Valdimir Semyonich Grigoriev, known to Frank as Volodoya, who has confessed to breaking in to Reid Press on the night of March 16. Frank answers all their questions, many of which are about his household and business. They hold Frank responsible for Volodya's behavior until his completes his course at the university. Frank and Volodya leave the Security Police office together. Frank says he knows Volodya did not intend to kill him. Volodya says, on the contrary, he was trying to kill him, but almost immediately amends that to say that he was only trying to frighten him. He admits he knows Lisa Ivanovna, and it becomes clear that he is madly in love with her after meeting her three times in the library. He suspects that Frank may also love Lisa.

Frank eventually meets the children and Lisa Ivanovna. The children beg to visit the dacha with Lisa during a holiday. Frank agrees.

The next day he receives a letter from Volodya. The student says that he realizes that his suspicions about Frank and Lisa must be groundless, for Frank is too old for her. Actually, Frank is realizing he is strongly attracted to Lisa. The night before Lisa and the children are to leave for the dacha, Frank successfully acts on this realization.

While at the dacha, Dolly hears a sound at the door in the middle of the night. She pulls on her coat and boots and finds Lisa on the front porch. Lisa appears to be leaving and says Dolly will have to go with her. They tramp through the forest for a mile or two, finally arriving at a clearing. Dolly becomes aware that there are people hiding behind the trees, saying, "Lisa, I can see hands." Lisa speaks as though to a crowd. "I have come, but I can't stay."

While the children are at the dacha, Selwyn has a meeting with Frank that he has wanted for some time. He confesses that Nellie had urged to him to live with her in a forest. He had watched in hiding as Nellie arrived at the train stop where he was to join her, but he had gotten cold feet. She had given the children to a conductor as the train pulled out. He has learned through correspondence with Miss Kinsman, currently at a Tolstoyan settlement in England, that Nellie had been at the same place until a few days ago.

The following morning, Frank again receives a call to pick up his children at Alexandervoksal. He gets them, brings Ben and Annushka home and takes Dolly to his office where he questions her about what happened. Dolly tells him that Lisa put them on the train to Moscow and then took another train to Berlin. Frank never raises the subject again.

That day, the household staff is having the ritual spring house opening. In the middle of the ritual, a taxi arrives at the front door. A servant opens the door and Nellie walks in.

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