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A Tree May Fall

Jones, Jonah

London, Sydney and Toronto: The Bodley Head


A Tree May Fall

Plot Summary

The novel begins when William Dobie, an orphan raised by a Quaker friend of his late parents’, returns home to York midway through his studies at Cambridge. Upon his arrival, he hesitantly informs his guardian, Miss Pomfret, of his decision to join the British Army. Though he tries to convince her that there is such a thing as a just war, she remains unyielding in her pacifism. Her reaction prevents him from revealing his other piece of news: he intends to marry Laura Venables, a bold and outspoken young woman who he knows will not meet Miss Pomfret’s standards.

Once he arrives at training, Dobie is given the title of lieutenant despite his lack of actual field experience. Thus, he finds himself in charge of a group of men even though he has no idea how to efficiently deploy them. Soon, he and his Company join several others on board a ship, supposedly headed to France. When they arrive in Dublin, Dobie has no idea what is going on.

The various Companies are ordered to march, and they soon find themselves tramping through suburbia with the echo of artillery fire in the distance. Shocked and confused, the men make their way to the city centre, whereupon crossing one of the river’s bridges they witness large numbers of the soldiers in line ahead of them shot down. With the help of Sergeant Major-Green, who pulls rank to bring order back to his Company, Dobie manages to save some of his men. Together, he and Green carry the wounded men to an empty house, which they begin to fortify.

In the hours that follow, the colonel continues to send Companies across the city despite the fact that they are being completely mowed down. Dobie begins to question his decision to join the army because he feels that the colonel’s actions border on criminal negligence. Soon the Army begins shelling the most heavily fortified areas of the city. Then, while carrying his wounded batman from place to place, Dobie is caught by a sniper, shot and killed. Green drags his body to another empty house. The novel ends on a tone of resignation, as Green sets up his rifle at the window, at the ready.

Main Characters

  • William Dobie

Significant Minor Characters

  • Miss Pomfret

  • Roberts F.X.

  • Laura Venables

  • Major Dean-Forbes

  • Sergeant-Major Green

Publication History

The novel was published in both paperback and hardcover by The Bodley Head (London, Sydney and Toronto) in September 1980. It has not been published since, and is longer in print.

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