Beautiful understated story of a family and all the various things that can go awry. Louisa, the matriarch, overseeing everyone’s comfort from her estate of Greenbanks, sees her husband die from a carriage wreck with his mistress. She doesn’t much mind being left alone, since she has her favorite son, Charles, nearby, until his brother and brother-in-law chase him away to South Africa because he won’t work. He returns, and is sent off to Malay. He comes back, joins the soldiering for WWI, and dies, of course. The other son, Jim, is a hard-ass who just cares about making the family business run. Louisa considers him “just a lodger.”
Daughter Letty married Ambrose, a real prig who loves things to be orderly. Their daughter Rachel wants none of that, yearns to be educated like her brothers, and when she earns a scholarship to Oxford she is denied by her father. Letty herself submits to Ambrose’s nonsense until her aunt leaves her a fortune, and then makes her own plans.
Louisa’s daughter Laura has the spark and gumption in the family, marrying a rich man and then leaving him when she realized how boring her life would be, running off with the love of her life from when she was young, having to beg for a divorce which is finally granted when the husband realizes that she might return with a squalling child and demand to be taken care of, ruining his solitude and comforts.
There’s also the mysterious Miss Barlow (Kate), who has a child out of wedlock and is reduced to a life of shameful work, acting as a companion. Louisa runs into her one day in town and offers her a position, thinking to bring her some peace, but Kate is prickly, wants none of it. She falls in love with the new preacher who turns out to be a celibate priest. Kate’s bastard son returns, Rachel falls in love with him, happily ever after.