'Literature for me was a magnificent destiny for which I was not yet fully prepared.'Paul and Henrietta Manning and their solitary, academic daughter Jane have nothing in common with Dolly, widow of Henrietta's brother. Corseted and painted, Dolly is a frivolous, superficial woman, who has little time for those without that inestimable quality - charm. Jane, in particular, falls into this category, especially after the death of her parents. But Jane has money - and a conscience - and these bind her to Dolly. Through disagreements, disappointments and disapprovals, Jane and Dolly are enmeshed in an uneasy alliance in which history and family create closer ties than friendship ever could.