This is a story of a bourgeois British family and their attempts to contain and control the actions of their relations. The story opens with the widow Lilia Herriton embarking on a trip with her traveling companion Caroline Abbott. In reality Lilias family connived her into going on a trip to distract her from a relationship with a gentleman who does not meet their social scrutiny. But while in Italy a worse disaster befalls the family as Lilia falls in love and marries a younger Italian man. When Lilia dies during child birth the family must somehow retrieve the child, who is but a mere pawn in their charade of control and manipulation.
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