At the centre of this novel stands Harriet Haslam, the epitome of the maternal power figure,whose genuine but overpowering love dominates the novel and whose self-knowledge drives her into insanity. Even after her death Harriet continues to dominate.Surrounding this central figure are a host of marvelously realised characters - Sir Geoffrey Haslam, Harriets husband, an innocent self-deluder; Dominic Spong, a hypocrite whose platitudes do not quite conceal his powerful self-interest; Agatha Calkin whose benevolent maternalism nearly hides the greediest of drives towards power; Lady Hardistry, the most outrageously witty of all sophisticates; Camilla Christy, a loose woman, dazzling, charming, and corrupt. Unlike Harriet Haslam, who will not spare herself the truth, the others are happier with their lies and can never achieve Harriets grandeur.

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