Robert Bradley is an educated carpenter from Jarrow who, after his father dies, goes to live with his uncle in the country, where he meets and falls in love with the lady of the manor, Agnes Thorman. Robert Bradley works at the shipyard in Jarrow, where he has learned of social injustices in life and does not agree with them. Robert loves to read and educate himself. His Uncle John, his Aunt and his cousin, Carrie come to his father's funeral and he is offered a job as a carpenter at their house. Uncle John is very religious and is horrified to find that his young nephew will not be attending church with the family every Sunday. Robert goes to the local pub instead and introduces himself to the village. On his way home, late in the evening, Robert sees what can only be described as an ethereal being, dancing in the moonlight. This is Millie, who is locally known as 'The Moth' as she flits around in the full moon. Robert is enthralled by her and plays along with her fantasies about the moon.
Millie lives with her sister, Agnes, brother Stanley (who is at Oxford) and her mother and father at Foreshaw Park, which is the Thorman family home. Agnes and her father appear and take Millie home. Agnes has been engaged to James for nearly three years, but James' mother does not approve and doesn't seem to want to set a wedding date. Millie is a problem as, although she is delightful, she has days where she is mentally unstable. Millie and Agnes' mother have very little to do with them, so it has fallen on Agnes to take care of Millie. James is not impressed with this and makes it clear that he is not prepared to take on Millie when they get married.
Robert has a short fling with Nancy, a local village girl, but Nancy wants marriage and Robert doesn't love her. Carrie is late back one evening after going to the fair, even though she was forbidden to go by her father. Robert finds her and brings her home and pretends she was with him to prevent her from being beaten by her father. Carrie goes to Robert's room late that night and tries to persuade him to sleep with her to say thank you from saving her from a beating.
At Foreshaw Park, Mother is obviously ill and she gives Agnes a ring from her drawer and asks her to burn letters which are also in the drawer. She then makes Agnes promise that she will always look after Millie and not have her put away. Agnes promises and Mother then dies. Agnes reads the letters and discovers that her father is not actually her biological father. Her mother had had an affair and her lover had died - it obviously broke her mother's heart.
Carrie is pregnant and Uncle John blames Robert and says he must marry Carrie. Robert says he is not the father and he will not marry Carrie. He goes to the pub and stays there. The following day he goes to the manor house to ask for a job. Agnes agrees to take him on as a general laborer and will give him food and board plus 10 shillings a week. Robert overhears an argument between Agnes and her drunken father about the bills not being paid. He says he is going to remarry and put Millie into a home. When Agnes refers to her father's future wife as his mistress, he slaps her.
Agnes decides she has to get a date for the wedding, so she visits James at his home, where he calls off the engagement. Agnes runs off screaming and Robert sees her and comforts her. It is the night of the full moon and Agnes knows she must watch Millie carefully. She can't find her anywhere. Her brother, Stanley refuses to help her look and she eventually finds her in the stable with Roberts who has taken her out of the house as the arguments were upsetting her. Agnes takes Millie inside and puts her to bed. Later that night, Milie's father wakes her up and says he can show her where the moon goes. He takes her to a bridge which is over a lake and she sees the moon reflecting in it. Her father tells her to jump but the butler sees them leave the house and follows them. He stops Millie from jumping but father falls into the lake and drowns, just as Robert is coming back from the pub. They decide to leave the body in the lake and pretend they know nothing. When it is noticed that the father is missing, a search party is set up, headed by Stanley. Stanley's only concern on the death of his father is how are his fees at Oxford going to be paid.
It is Christmas and Robert buys Millie a puppy and gives Agnes a book. The butler finds this most inappropriate and feels that Robert is trying to win Agnes' affection. While they are having a fun Christmas, Carrie goes into labor. Her father hasn't spoken to her since he discovered her pregnancy and wouldn't even allow her to eat in the same room. Carrie's baby dies and her mother begs Uncle James to find a doctor because she is worried about Carrie. It is too late, Carrie dies, telling her father that the baby was not Robert's.
On New Year's Eve, Uncle James comes to the house to beg Robert's forgiveness as he now know that Robert was not the father of Carrie's child. Uncle James collapses and Robert takes him home the following day to ensure he gets good medical help.
The butler sends an anonymous letter to Lady Emily, a relative of Agnes' mother's, telling her of the inappropriate relationship she is having with Robert. Agnes immediately knows who has written the letter. The butler has become quite unhinged as he has spent his whole life at the manor house and now knows that there is no money to retain.
It is 1914 and Stanley joins the army and says he is going to let the house to the army to try and bring in some sort of income. Robert's Uncle James dies and leaves everything to him which means he is a man of means now. Robert asked Agnes if he can now sleep at his new home and just work during the day. He will leave when she has found someone to replace him. She is distraught and asks for a kiss before he leaves. At that moment, Stanley appears and attacks Robert. Stanley is sent flying, Robert leaves and Stanley accuses Agnes of being a whore. Stanley is leaving for France the following day and the army will not lease the house, so he has decided it must be sold.
The butler and his wife are very upset and blame Agnes for the sale of the house. Agnes tells Millie to stay in her room with her new puppy, while she goes to talk to Robert. The puppy wanders off to the attic and Millie follows. Robert says that Agnes and Millie can stay with him and Agnes asks Robert to marry her - Robert agrees. The butler's wife can't find Millie and says she will go outside to look and her husband must look inside. He then proceeds to pour fuel all over the house and sets it on fire. Millie and her puppy are still inside. Millie manages to smash a window on the first floor and shouts for help. Robert and Agnes are coming back from the village and they see the fire. Robert rushes inside to try and save Millie, followed by the butler. The butler perishes but Robert saves Millie and her puppy - although both suffer burns. Robert and Agnes marry and Stanley disowns Agnes - which pleases her enormously.
Best part of story, including ending:
I enjoy the exploration of changing times. The early 20th century with its industrialization, the gap between the gentry and peasants narrowing and the increase in women's freedom.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is where Robert first meets Millie (the Moth) on the night of the full moon, it demonstrates his tenderness and you immediately fall in love with him.
Opinion about the main character:
Robert can be a little too good to be true at times.
Leah on 11/3/2015 6:28:48 PM says: They shouldn't have chosen Justine Waddell as Millie in the movie, because she unintentionall spoilt it all!! She's so lovely and sweet, delicate - just as she was in Wives & Daughters, the moment she met Robert, I wanted her to be with Robert! He's tender and nice to her, and they looked good together that time they met in the moonlight. I didn't want him to end up with her older sister, but where that's what the book is, and how could I expect to have an alternate ending? Millie is a beautiful creature, and you can't help but think that people who are the special way she is, how could she not be the heroine? That, that "Moth" personality is curable possible because she was maybe once traumatised? She's the offspring of the mother's lover, and the adoptive father could have brutalised her somehow (he tried to make her jump into the lake), so if the key is found to her behaviour, she could cured and marry Robert!