The novel opens with a two-page foreword by the editor, P. Loxias. Loxias is responsible for bringing the book to publication, although he met the author after the events dramatized. He says that the text deals with man's creative struggle for wisdom and truth in art. For this reason, Loxias remarks, it is a love story.
Bradley Pearson introduces his novel by saying that the events in it took place a few years before, when he was fifty-eight. After having written three books, two novels and a book of "Pensees" or philosophical thoughts, he had decided to quit his lifelong job as a tax inspector in order to create a master novel. Unfortunately even with copious amounts of time, he found himself struck by writer's block. For this reason, he rented a cottage on the English coast for the summer, an action that just precedes the narrative of his tale.
Bradley further explains that he will tell his story in a "modern" chronological manner, and that good art, which he is trying to create, represents a form of truth. He dedicates his novel to an unnamed person who has inspired him towards creation.
From the Beginning to Bradley's departure from the Baffins
It is a late May afternoon and Bradley is about to leave for his rented seaside cottage. He hesitates for a few moments to check his bags once again. This hesitation sets the novel's events in motion. The doorbell rings. It is Bradley's ex-wife's brother, Francis Marloe. He looks dirty and disheveled and Bradley does not recognize him. Francis has come because Bradley's ex-wife, Christian, has just returned to London from America following the death of her American husband. Francis believes that Christian will soon visit Bradley and would like Bradley to put in a good word for him; Francis has debts and his sister has become rich. Francis once had been a doctor, but had his license taken away due to his illegal distribution of pharmaceuticals. Bradley feels repulsed to see his ex-brother-in-law and to hear about his ex-wife. Bradley insists that Christian will not visit him because they detest each other. Bradley then bluntly suggests that Francis leave, but before Francis can do so, the phone rings. Arnold Baffin is on the line and begs Bradley to come to his house immediately; Arnold fears that he may have killed his wife. Bradley agrees to come and invites Francis along.
Arnold Baffin is a very successful younger writer whom Bradley considers his protégé; Bradley helped him get his first book published. Since then, Bradley has not respected Arnold's novels because they lack artistry, and are produced yearly. Bradley notes to the reader that although some would later say he envied Arnold's fame and wealth, he never did since Arnold's art lacked a true connection to truth.