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The novel is set among the wealthy of the Northeast in the USA of the early 1900's. A close knit group of about ten couples in high society visit each others homes for dance, drink, conversation and partying. The male members are mostly affiliated with a closely held conglomerate controlling the sugar refinery industry. Robert Kimberly and his brother Charles are the top executives. Robert Kimberly is very highly respected and is seen as the leader; unlike most of the group, he is not married. He cares for his very decrepit oldest brother, with the help of a hired Catholic monk. Alice McBirney and her husband have recently moved from the Midwest to join the group. He has just sold his refinery to the Kimberlys, and is now an officer. Robert Kimberly is soon very attracted to Alice. She tries to avoid any such improprieties; she wants him only as a friend.

The novel has some serious themes, like the sanctity of marriage, the Catholic Church, the relationship of classes in society, labor vs. management, divorce, etc. Robert has the highest of values in most regards, but falls hopelessly in love with Alice. The idea of adultery is a horror to Alice, though her marriage is an unhappy one. She will not consider divorce. The resolutions in the story are not happy ones.

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