In the "great metropolitan industrial district" of East London, Riceyman Steps lead from King's Cross Road to Riceyman Square. Here in this busy neighborhood, Henry Earlforward, the proprietor of a secondhand bookstore, takes a keen interest in Violet Arb, the widowed owner of a nearby confectionary shop. The middle-aged shopkeepers marry, but their chance for late-in-life happiness is increasingly shadowed by Henry's compulsive miserliness. Violet slowly realizes that her husband views everyday necessities — heating, electricity, even food — as extravagances to be resisted through self-denial. Starved for love as well as physical nourishment, the couple's only hope for survival lies with Elsie, their maid, and her warm-hearted generosity.
Winner of the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, England's oldest literary award, Riceyman Steps weaves an atmospheric re-creation of London's harsh post-World War I mood. Its powerful exploration of sexual hunger and repression, written simply and with a deceptively light ironic tone, offers a compelling story of alienation, thwarted passion, and obsession.