The main setting of the novel, the Isle of Slingers, is based on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, southern England. Many of Hardy's novels were set in Dorset. The novel tells the story of the sculptor Jocelyn Pierston's search for the ideal woman, through three generations of a Portland family. A cottage housing what is now Portland Museum, on the Isle of Portland, founded by Marie Stopes, a friend of Hardy and his wife, was an inspiration for the book. The cottage acted as the home of Avice, the novel's heroine.