Born in 1865, Mary Olivier is the youngest of four children. Mamma dominates this Victorian household, idolising the boys, rejecting the independent love of her only daughter: the archetype of all women who control by weakness and suffering. Mary adores her mother- and she hates her. Ferociously intelligent, she vacillates between a passionate quest for her own artistic and sexual identity.
This is one of the first novels ever written about a mother and daughter relationship, and the eternal conflict engendered by the deepest of ties. But it is a celebration too: for though Mary sacrifices her life- and her lover- to the demands of duty, she emerges victorious, finding in the discovery of her intellectual and feminine self an inner freedom, a perfect happiness.