There are three women in his life.
The first is J. He falls in love with her in his twenties. He has done poorly at university and barely gets his degree. There is no sign of his being great. She is seven years younger and in poor health. He is working in an isolated place and their courtship is conducted through letters. His are impatient, angry, violent. He is a hunter, he says, in an uneasy pursuit of his prey. His love is a malady which has hugely infected him. How he loathes himself for flinging away his liberty on a creature whose sex has been ill-using men for five thousand years! She must make a decision now. He has been offered a tempting opportunity through an uncle's connections. He has been asked to become secretary to a great man. Ambition is an empty form and she alone can save him. He will nurse her back to health with his affections. He wants to live a simple, obscure life in the happiness of his love with J.
He becomes secretary to the great man.
He keeps his employer's accounts and ghostwrites for him. He studies the dignitaries who call daily at the great man's house. Their self-important postures. Their meaningless chit-chat. Their witless puns. These are the men who govern the great world? He prefers a horse's ass then. He spends more and more time in his patron's library. He takes furious walks by himself in the park. He finds a bright little girl, the house-keeper's daughter, and educates her. She is H., who is fourteen years younger and in poor health. He teaches her how to read and write. He teaches her what to read and what to think. She has a quick mind combined with feminine pliability. “H. thinks like a man,'' he says proudly. Her handwriting is an exact copy of his, which will give future historians no little trouble. He presents her with a list of her faults and she ticks them off one by one as she overcomes them.