This is the rather melancholic tale of a prosperous businessman in the "autumn" of his years (50s) realizing that all he has to show for his life are a silly wife, a preposterous daughter, a grotesquely-decorated house, business acquaintances, and a library full of books that hint at a world of beauty, grace and provenance that he covets even as he resigns himself to accepting that it is beyond his reach. Until a young woman enters his life, and he suddenly discovers himself "sowing" both the passion and pains of love.
I'm not entirely convinced the author, E.F. Benson, knew what he wanted to accomplish in this novel. The first few chapters of the book read as relatively standard period satire, skewering such familiar targets as silly wives, self-important priests, and social castes. Somewhere along the way, however, a funny thing happens: Benson appears to develop a certain fondness for his businessman protagonist Keeling - perhaps because poor Keeling at least aspires to passion, or perhaps because Keeling possesses the good sense to fall in love with Norah, Benson's sensible and appealing female lead. Whatever the reason, the novel gradually transitions from satire to sentiment, finally resolving into a climax that's a muddle of both.
Despite the novel's thematic inconsistency, however, I can't find it in me to be too critical. The fact is, I enjoyed Benson's comfortable prose, I found the main characters to be authentic and sincere, the satire was entertaining enough, and if the ending is a bit of a muddle, at least its a decorous muddle, sullied neither by cloying solicitude nor misogyny. An Autumn Sowing may not be an "improving" sort of book; on the whole, however, I felt its merits more than outweighed its flaws.