On the death of his father, Stephen Stratton writes a long and deeply personal letter to his son, hoping that, as his son becomes a man, he can benefit from Stephen's experience and wisdom. As Stephen sets down his life’s history, he tells the remarkable story of his former lover, Lady Mary. With a lust for freedom and a fierce desire not to be owned by a man, she is a woman living ahead of her time - until marriage threatens to ruin her... The Passionate Friends is an inspiring love story - between father and son, and man and woman.
I want very much to set down my thoughts and my experiences of life. I want to do so now that I have come to middle age and now that my attitudes are all defined and my personal drama worked out I feel that the toil of writing and reconsideration may help to clear and fix many things that remain a little uncertain in my thoughts because they have never been fully stated, and I want to discover any lurking inconsistencies and unsuspected gaps. And I have a story. I have lived through things that have searched me. I want to tell that story as well as I can while I am still a clear–headed and active man, and while many details that may presently become blurred and altered are still rawly fresh in my mind. And to one person in particular do I wish to think I am writing, and that is to you, my only son. I want to write my story not indeed to the child you are now, but to the man you are going to be. You are half my blood and temperamentally altogether mine. A day will come when you will realize this, and want to know how life has gone with me, and then it may be altogether too late for me to answer your enquiries. I may have become inaccessible as old people are sometimes inaccessible. And so I think of leaving this book for you—at any rate, I shall write it as if I meant to leave it for you. Afterwards I can consider whether I will indeed leave it... The idea of writing such a book as this came to me first as I sat by the dead body of your grandfather—my father. It was because I wanted so greatly such a book from him that I am now writing this. He died, you must know, only a few months ago, and I went to his house to bury him and settle all his affairs. At one time he had been my greatest friend. He had never indeed talked to me about himself or his youth, but he had always showed an extraordinary sympathy and helpfulness for me in all the confusion and perplexities into which I fell. This did not last to the end of his life. I was the child of his middle years, and suddenly, in a year or less, the curtains of age and infirmity fell between us. There came an illness, an operation, and he rose from it ailing, suffering, dwarfed and altogether changed. Of all the dark shadows upon life I think that change through illness and organic decay in the thoughts and spirits of those who are dear and close to us is the most evil and distressing and inexplicable. Suddenly he was a changeling, a being querulous and pitiful, needing indulgence and sacrifices.