Books themes are the role of women in society, marriage, morals and the early feminist movement. The novel begins with the Madden sisters and their childhood friend in Clevedon. After various travails, the adult Alice and Virginia Madden move to London and renew their friendship with Rhoda, an unmarried bluestocking. She is living with the also unmarried Mary Barfoot, and together they run an establishment teaching secretarial skills to young middle-class women remaindered in the marriage equation. Monica Madden, the youngest and prettiest sister, is living-in above a shop in London. She is, in modern parlance, "stalked" by a middle-aged bachelor Edmund Widdowson, and he eventually brow-beats her into marriage. His ardent love turns into jealous obsession suffocating Monica's life. Meanwhile Mary Barfoot's rakish cousin Everard decides to court Rhoda initially as a challenge to her avowed dislike of love and marriage, but he later falls in love with her for her intellectual independence, which he finds preferable to the average uneducated woman's inanity. Despite being virulently anti-marriage, she decides to indulge him with a view to turning down any marriage proposal to show her solidarity with her "odd women". Ironically, she in turn falls for him.