The Round Tower Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Round Tower

The Round Tower tells the story of the difficult relationship between Vanessa Ratcliffe, the daughter of a wealthy factory owner, and Angus Cotton, who is a working class man. Vanessa Ratcliffe is a 16 year old convent girl who lives in a large house in a good area in the north of England. Her father, Jonathan Ratcliffe owns a local factory called Affleck and Tate. He is a pompous, hard man, whose only interest in life is money and trying to marry his daughters off to the landed gentry and so move himself up the social ladder. Jonathan's wife, Jane, just obeys her husband and looks after her three children, the eldest daughter, Susan, Vanessa and their son, Ray.
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Angus Cotton works at Affleck and Tate and is a valued employee. Angus' mother, Emily, works as a maid at the Ratcliffe's and she gets on well with Vanessa, describing her as the only decent one in the family. The Cotton's live in Ryder's Row, a working class neighborhood.

The Brett's live next door to the Ratcliffe's. Authur Brett works at Affleck and Tate and his wife is the local magistrate. They have a loveless marriage and Brett is exceptionally unhappy. Jonathan Ratcliffe desperately wants to buy the Brett's house, the Poplars, but Authur always refuses, saying it has been in his family for too long to sell it. Authur frequently suffers from insomnia and goes wandering in the grounds at night. Vanessa also tends to wander around the grounds at strange hours. They accidentally meet in the summer house on two occasions. On the second occasion, Brett, who is the same age as Vanessa's father, makes love to Vanessa.

Vanessa discovers that she is pregnant. She tells Authur, who says there'is nothing he can do and suggests that she gets rid of the baby. Vanessa tells her parents who are absolutely livid. They immediately blame Angus, as he has been seen talking to Vanessa on many occasions. He vehemently denies being the father and immediately leaves Affleck and Tate to' start his own haulage business. The Ratcliffe's arrange for Vanessa to go away and have an abortion. Vanessa - Van for short - will not allow this happen and she leaves home and tries to survive on her own in one squalid room. Authur is so distraught by the news of Van's pregnancy, that he commits suicide. Every one assumes that it is because of his loveless marriage as Van will tell no one who is father of the child is.

Angus goes to see Vanessa and sees the squalor in which she is living, and makes it plain that it is no place to bring a baby into the world. Angus suggests that Vanessa marries him to give the baby a name and to keep her safe. Vanessa agrees and Angus then tells his mother, Emily. Emily is not at all happy with the thought of having Vanessa staying in her house and makes it plain that Van is not welcome. However, it is Angus house, so she has no choice but to agree. Van sends a message to her parents that she needs a copy of her birth certificate in order to get married. Her father is adamant that he will not give her a copy until he hears what his son, Ray has to say. Ray said he thought that Van would marry Authur Brett, as he had seen Van and Authur kissing and 'doing things' in the summer house. The Ratcliffe's bribe Ray to keep quiet and decide that marriage to Angus is the best thing.

Vanessa and Angus quietly get married and celebrate with lunch and a trip to the pictures. When they get home, there are friends and relatives waiting for them, all of whom are drunk. Angus orders them out of the house and rows with his mother. Emily and her daughter, Rosy, are most unpleasant to Vanessa and make her life an absolute misery. Vanessa decides that she can take no more and takes an overdose. Rosy finds her and Emily and Rosy walk her around the room until the doctor arrives and arranges for her to go into hospital. Vanessa loses the baby.

Emily and Rosy promise to treat Vanessa well when she comes out of hospital and Angus is trying his best to make his haulage business successful as he wants to give Vanessa back everything she has lost. He goes on the hunt for a cheap place for the couple to live and finds a bungalow which is exceptional value. He wants to buy this for Vanessa. When Vanessa sees the bungalow, she suggests it would be more sensible for Angus to buy another lorry and they can wait for a house of their own.

Angus takes Vanessa out for a special evening. They dine at a first class restaurant but when they hit the dance floor, one of Susan's old friends, Brian Cornell is exceptionally drunk and makes suggestive comments to Vanessa. Angus is angry and suggests they go outside. Cornell tries to hit Angus and misses and Angus sends him to the ground. A businessman called Andrew Fowler witnessed the whole scene and tells Angus that should Cornell decide to take it further, he will be on Angus side. Cornell decides to sue Angus for assault and there is obviously concern that Angus will go to prison. Andrew Fowler sees a lot of good in Angus and is not only prepared to back him in the assault case, but he wants to loan Angus money to buy eight lorries so that he can be the principal contractor at Henson's quarry.

Vanessa learns that the magistrate presiding over Angus' case in none other than Authur Brett's wife, Irene. Vanessa secretly phones Irene and says that if she sends Angus to prison, then she will tell the town that Authur was the father of her dead child. Irene finds Angus guilty and makes him pay a 100 and costs, but at least she didn't send him to prison. Angus is humiliated by the way Irene spoke to him in court in front of all his friends and family, so Vanessa tells him why she spoke to him in that manner. Angus is furious that Vanessa slept with someone who was the same age as her father and storms out. Emily overhears everything and goes to visit Irene and then to Vanessa's mother. Angus finds out where Emily has been and they have yet another shouting match in the house. Vanessa can take no more. She grabs her suitcase and starts packing. She feels she is the cause of all this bitterness and it would be better for everyone if she left. Angus then declares his love for Vanessa and persuades her to stay.

Eighteen months later, we find Vanessa and Angus in a modest house of their own, expecting their first child. Vanessa has a little boy, much to Angus's delight. Angus now throws himself more and more into making money to ensure that Vanessa and his son get the best of everything. Four years pass and Vanessa and Angus now have two children but Angus hardly ever sees them as he is so busy. Hoping to please Vanessa, he secretly buys the house which the Brett's used to own next door to Van's parents' house. He tells his mother first who gently points out that Vanessa will not be pleased and will not live in the house. Angus storms off again. Emily visits Vanessa and tells her of Angus's purchase. Van has to think of a way of getting rid of the house. She persuades Angus to put the house in her name and then goes to her parents' house and says they can buy the house as they have always wanted it. Her father refuses to buy it, saying that she has only come to rub their noses in her success and she is married to an upstart. Angus hears about Van's plot and rushes up to the house, hoping the stop the transactions. He arrives as Van is leaving with the title deeds in hand.

Vanessa asks Angus to drive her to a beautiful spot in the middle of a field. She said she would like Angus to build her a house just there. She tells him, she loves him and it would be 'our house, our people, not your people or my people'.
Best part of story, including ending: The story demonstrates the struggle in the 1950's and early 1960's with class distinction and how hard it was for people to climb up the social ladder and become successful.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene was when Van and Angus' first child was born.

Opinion about the main character: Although Vanessa came from a privileged background, she was able to fit in to other socio-economic groups with little effort. Typical British stiff upper lip.

The review of this Book prepared by Carole Tucker a Level 2 American Robin scholar

Chapter Analysis of The Round Tower

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Plot & Themes

Time/era of story    -   1930's-1950's Forbidden/mismatched love?    -   Yes How mismatched?    -   poor loving rich

Main Male Character

Profession/status:    -   engineer Age/status:    -   20's-30's

Main Female Character

   -   a teen Profession/status:    -   scholar


Europe    -   Yes

Writing Style

What % of story is romance related?    -   50% How explicit is the sex?    -   vague references only Focus of story    -   equally on him and her How much dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

Books with storylines, themes & endings like The Round Tower

Catherine Cookson Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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