This is the first chapter that follows Simon. Simon’s late father was a well-to-do mill owner whose business recently failed. Simon now needs to discover and publish something revolutionary in order to gain fame and raise the funds to achieve his dream of opening a private asylum. Simon realizes that, ultimately, he will likely have to “marry money,” as his mother did.
This passage provides important details about Simon’s class background. It also establishes the high stakes of Simon’s work with Grace: if Simon is not able to produce a well-received paper from his interviews with Grace, he will have to capitulate to his mother and settle down in a marriage.
Simon pouts over his breakfast, which the housemaid, Dora, is late in bringing to him. Simon dislikes Dora; she is unlike the European servants of his wealthy childhood, “who are born knowing their place.” While he waits for his breakfast, Simon attempts to write back to his mother. When he gets bored, he takes out Grace’s portrait and reflects on his meeting with her. Grace was “straighter, taller, [and] more self-possessed” than he expected.
Simon’s tense relationship with Dora will take on added significance later in the novel, when the reader finally becomes privy to Dora’s view of Simon. Simon’s derision of Dora highlights his bias against those who are not of his gender or his social class. This bias is confirmed by Simon’s surprise at Grace’s poise despite her background as a low-class servant and a convicted criminal.
Dora finally arrives with Simon’s breakfast and Simon thinks, “Dora—Pig—Ham,” noting the “associative tricks” his brain uses. He eventually returns to writing to his mother, struggling to describe the landscape of Kingston because “he has never known much about flowers.”
This is another instance of Simon likening a woman to food; his comparison of Dora to a pig is particularly demeaning. This passage is also significant because it shows Simon’s genuine interest in the origins of madness and how reason breaks down in the brain. This ironically foreshadows Simon’s mental breakdown later in the novel. Finally, this passage highlights the importance as flowers as a symbol of female power.