Vernon, who grew up in the Victorian era, was the son of a soldier father, Walter, and an emotionally clingy mother. He was raised largely by his nurse. While Vernon had no friends, he had four imaginary friends who lived on the grounds, the most important of which was Mr. Green. Vernon's Uncle Sydney, who has a manufacturing business in Birmingham, makes him feel uncomfortable while Walter's sister, who plays the grand piano in his house, gives him a good feeling.
Aunt Ninas marriage breaks up making her a single mom to Josephine. In the meantime, Walter goes off to fight in the Boer War. Aunt Nina dies and Myra takes in Josephine to the delight of Vernon who now has a playmate. A new family comes to town named Levinne who are held in disdain because they are Jewish. However, in time the Levinne's are accepted by the locals. Vernon and Josephine make good friends with their son, Sebastien.
In the meantime, Walter is killed in action and Vernon is set to inherit the family estate when he comes of age. Myra and Josephine, short on money, move to Birminghamm to be close to Uncle Sydney. Elven years pass in which Vernon and Sebastien remain friends. Sebastien's father dies and he inherits millions, but Vernon continues to be short on money. He goes to work at Uncle Sydney's manufacturing firm. In the meantime, he is invited to a charity concert at Albert where he has a life changing moment: he starts to love music and decides to become a composer.
Vernon meets up with Nell Vereker, an old school chum from Cambridge, and they fall in love. However, both Nell's mother and Vernon's Uncle Sydney think that he is not rich enough for Nell and convince him to postpone marriage. In the meantime, Vernon starts seeing a woman ten years his senior named Jane who encourages him to pursue his music and quit the manufacturing firm. Vernon's bites the bullet and proposes to Nell who, to spite him, runs off and gets engaged to another man. Vernon in turn runs into the arms of Jane.
Four days after the outbreak of World War I, Nell and Vernon meet again and she admits that she is still in love with him. They are married later that afternoon after she finds out that Nell has enlisted. Six months later, Vernon goes off to war and Nell becomes a VAD nurse. However, later she finds out that Vernon has been killed in action. As his widow she inherits his estate and sells the property. Her former flame, George, buys it, proposes marriage and she accepts.
In neutral Holland in 1917, Vernon has escaped from a German prisoner of war camp. He reads a magazine and discovers that Nell has remarried. Despondent, he throws himself in the path of an oncoming truck. He survives, but suffers amnesia. Vernon becomes a chauffeur and meets a wealthy American who is visiting England. The American introduces him to a friend who in turn leads him to his wife, Nell. She gets him professional help and he declares he wants to get back together. Nell, frightened, lies and says she is pregnant by George.
In the meantime, Vernon and Jane reunite and travel to Russia where he is taken by the avant-garde music. A telegram from New York stating that Josephine is gravely ill sends them sailing across the Atlantic. The ship, hit by an iceberg, starts to sink. In the commotion, Vernon spots Nell who begs him to save her. Vernon grabs Nell as Jane, with a horrified look on her face, goes "down into that green swirl." In New York, Vernon confesses to Sebastian that he let the love of his life drown. Torn by emotion, he puts his heart and soul into a composition and the result is The Giant.