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The book begins with the death of the mother of the nine-year-old protagonist, Philip Carey. Philip's father had already died a few months before, and the orphan Philip is sent to live with his aunt and uncle. His uncle is vicar of Blackstable, a small village in East Anglia. Philip inherits a small fortune but the money is held in custody by his uncle until he is twenty-one, giving his uncle a great deal of power over him until he reaches his maturity. Early chapters relate Philip's experience at the vicarage. His aunt tries to be a mother to Philip, but she is herself childless and unsure of how to behave, whereas his uncle takes a cold disposition towards him. Philip's uncle has an eclectic collection of books, and in reading Philip finds a way to escape his mundane existence and experience fascinating worlds of fiction.