A rich tale centred around the lives of Marjorie Fairfield, a beautiful and penniless young woman who is the mistress of a wealthy business man; and the symbolically named Ransom Heritage, one of the many young men who were cast adrift after the First World War ended and who has been abruptly deprived of a sense of purpose, ambition and hope. Around these young people and their circle whirls the carefree society of fashionable post-war London - a raucous, glamorous and perhaps slightly shrill world of cocktails and nightclubs, tea dances and illicit tete-a-tetes. Waugh depicts a frenetic society where all too many people are 'kept' in some way - financially, by a well-off lover, inherited capital, an unwanted husband; or more figuratively, by a reputation, a title - a relationship, even.

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