Basil Ransom, a magnetic Southern gentleman, has moved North to New York City -- away from the impoverished South of the Reconstruction. Poor as Basil is when he arrives, he's also richly talented. . . . His cousin, Olive Chancellor, is in her way tragic: there is so much love behind her cold staring countenance. A stalwart in the women's rights movement of the time, she invites Basil to her home in order to offer help and assistance to her Southern cousin, but she also wishes to save him from the flawed ways he certainly must have taken on growing up in the South. Her self-seeking, ulterior motives fail miserably, of course. It is through Olive that Basil Ransom meets Verena Tarrant, the young woman who has left her lower middle-class family to move in with and be molded by Olive. Verena has a tremendous speaking ability which caught Olive's attention. Verena Tarrant has little else but natural talent--whether the private turmoil of sex and marriage finally draw her from the political sisterhood and what happens to women like Olive, are high-stakes, human questions indeed. . . .