Two families – two brothers, two sisters – live in two homes that have been connected by marriage: house and home, two houses, two households. One home belongs to the middle-aged and the other one (the second) to the young. The families, one in Ireland and the other in England, are of a different social class despite living in the same house and sharing the same curricles (backyards and front gardens). This is how Patrick Kavanagh, author of The Great Game, opens his celebrated 1923 novel A House of Four Seasons.

“There are two Andrews and two Robert Pattinsons in the same house,” says the pompous parson of the fictitious parish of Knock-na-Murrough in Ireland. “They are all very proud of their families and fond of exhibiting them to newcomers. But they will not admit that they are related to one another. They will not eat together, drink together, or even acknowledge one another as brother and sister. This state of affairs may continue indefinitely, as each of the four is engaged in a great game of pretense and concealment.”

What Kavanagh’s parson is describing, in essence, is modern-day suburbia. The two Andrews’ house is an Edwardian specimen – stately and symmetrical – with a red-tiled roof and a front entrance flanked by two sidelights. The two Robert Pattinsons live in a semi-detached mock-Tudor mansion with a black-painted door and a bay window, and they entertain guests in a formal ballroom.

In the early decades of the 20th century, suburbia was a novel concept in the developing world. In England, Ireland, and America, the coming of the automobile and cheap air travel meant that people could live further from the center of cities, could afford to own a home, and, by extension, could afford to buy consumer goods.

The result was a real revolution in how humans lived and what they could afford. But it was also, in some respects, a prison. People were locked into their homes, unable to socialize with their neighbors, and trapped by the restrictions of a car-dependent culture. The two houses in A House of Four Seasons evoke the dichotomy of modern times: Edwardian elegance and pretension, huddled behind security doors, and a semi-detached mock-Tudor mansion inhabited by a more cosmopolitan crowd, with the addition of a few twists and turns that belong to the Jazz Age.


In A House of Four Seasons the two Andrews live in a gated community. They are the kind of people who would never dream of stepping beyond the confines of their garden – the gate itself is sufficient to keep unwanted visitors at bay – and they resent what they see as the affront of intruding on their privacy. So what happens when two brothers from different classes, two men of the cloth, are thrust together in a life-changing incident? One of the two sets of siblings, the young Eileen, is married to the older, more established William Andrews. But the marriage has produced no children, and the ailing William is desperate to avoid a costly (if unspecified) succession battle. The solution? Eileen agrees to wed a former soldier turned sportsman named Patrick Pattinson, with whom she instantly takes a shine. But the union comes with strings attached: Pattinson’s first wife is to have guardianship of Eileen and her children, the result of William’s maneuverings. The children are Michael and Anne, aged 15 and 12 respectively. Anne’s school holidays are spent with the Pattinson family in London while Michael remains in Ireland with his mother.

The result of this convoluted situation is that the two young siblings are effectively kept from contact with the opposite sex. And what’s more, they have never known a world beyond the gates of their genteel garden. They are innocent of the ways of the world and ripe for exploitation by their scheming uncle. The elder boy, Billy, is a callow youth who has grown up among the golf courses and the tennis courts of England. He is selfish, decadent, and lacks any moral compass. Indeed, he quickly becomes the object of derision and disrespect among his wealthier peers. The younger boy, Tim, is brighter and more sensitive. He bemoans his parents’ restricted lives, wishing he could do more for them. The difference in social status between the youths and their uncle serves as a catalyst for much of the action in A House of Four Seasons. It’s an upper-class powder keg just waiting to go off, primed by Tim’s desire to prove himself and Billy’s weakness for pretty women. Trouble strikes when Anne, the younger girl, discovers her brother’s secret marriage. She is incensed and wants no part of the hypocritical pretenses that the union requires.

Meanwhile, their father, the Reverend James Andrews, is no less incensed. He considers the arrangement abhorrent and, in the eyes of the law, an irregular union. While the legalities of the matter are debated, the Reverend’s attitude toward his younger son-in-law is best summed up by these lines from Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one, because they have a better chance of getting their work done, for they can help each other…. And if one departs, the other is there to continue the work.” The point is that the two younger children are, in many respects, just as much a part of the family as the two older ones. (A possible caveat is that they are products of a more modern and more sexually permissive era. The earlier editions of the Kavanagh novel, published in the early 20th century, feature a somewhat more chaste attitude toward sexual matters. Also, while the fictional siblings live a charmed life, the vast majority of Ireland’s middle class at that time was considerably less fortunate. Families were smaller and lived in less pleasant circumstances. Money, then, was scarce, and social status an even scarcer commodity.)

Family Dinner

One of the great ironies of A House of Four Seasons is that the two families live together in a state of permanent discord. While they are physically connected, they have managed to alienate one another through a combination of selfishness and pretense. This is most evident at mealtimes, when they sit down to eat together but maintain eye contact in such a way that it feels more like a standoff than an exercise in manners. There is always one family seated on each side of the table, with the exception of special occasions, when all four are served by an attentive servant. While the womenfolk may dine together, the men remain aloof, maintaining their own table manners and avoiding eye contact altogether.

The food is a no-nonsense affair: roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast chicken, and the like, with the occasional lobster or caviar appetizer. The women drink wine while the men drink whiskey. Everyone has a go at the olives, with the children permitted to help themselves. Everyone helps themselves, too, to the huge cream cake that is served every Christmas. There is a formality to the proceedings that feels strangely Soviet. The families have, in effect, taken a vow of silence, communicating only through intermediaries, and have imposed a rigid order on themselves – something akin to the old dachshund principle: if you meet with aggression, bite back with aggression, but remember to chew with the other dogs!

For all their estrangement, though, the two families manage to communicate on at least one level. When Tim is offered a teaching post in Germany, it is the two older children who persuade their parents that the offer is a suitable one and Tim, who is more worldly-wise and sophisticated than his younger siblings, who are still in their teens, can provide some valuable guidance for their fellow pupils.


The Edwardian era produced some of the most distinctive and lavish dress codes of the late 19th century. The two Andrews’ outfits are, in fact, remarkably similar, as is that of their Uncle Robert. Their parents often attend church in Highland dress, and while the fashionably dressed ladies of that time would no doubt turn in their graves at this travesty of a traditional garment, it nevertheless served its purpose – to impress!