Lucy Trevor, now Lady Randolph, and her husband Sir Tom are very happy together - made even more so by the birth of their little boy. When Lucy's younger brother Jock comes for a long visit, he reminds her of their father's requirements that she give away half her fortune - an idea that is not appreciated by Sir Tom: "A man may have the most liberal principles about women, and yet feel a most natural indignation when his own wife shows signs of desiring to act for herself . . . . "
But even worse for the peace of the marriage is the arrival of an old "friend" from Tom's younger wilder days in Italy, the Countess Forno-Populo, with her teenage daughter in tow. It is not long before Lucy is completely left out as the Countess entertains Sir Tom for hours every evening. As Lucy feels more and more estranged from Tom, the novel becomes suspenseful, until finally a crisis is reached.
Biographical and other notes
Those familiar with Henry James' Portrait of a Lady will recognize many plot similarities: the young heiress who believes she has a happy marriage; the introduction into their lives of her husband's mistress; the mistress's daughter who may be her husband's child; the heartless plans for an arranged marriage for the unwilling daughter; and so on. Margaret Oliphant does seem to have consciously borrowed story lines from this recent novel, but always with a twist to the plot, and a dash of amusement - for example in Sir Tom the daughter, rather than being victimized, looks forward to an arranged marriage as a way to achieve her independence!
Also aside from the borrowed plot, Margaret Oliphant seems to be borrowing a common Jamesian theme - of an innocent straightforward person coping with the corrupt values of a worldly European. However Mrs Oliphant had actually developed this theme over ten years before James - see the notes for her light-hearted little story Felicita.
British publishing information
Periodical: Bolton Weekly Journal and District News & others 2 Jan - 14 July 1883