The novel centers on a triangle that consists of Leonora Eyre, an aging but aristocratic London spinster, and two unlikely suitors. Leonora first meet Humphrey Boyce and his nephew James at an antique auction when the neo-Victorian Leonora swoons at the excitement of bidding on a Victorian flower book. The two antique dealers rescue Leonora, and thus begins their competition for her affections.
Humphrey’s age makes him a much more likely candidate for a lasting, relationship with Leonora, but it also makes him far less interesting to her inundated as she is by a multitude of similarly aging suitors. Leonora has earlier pitied her neighbor Meg for doting on a man half her age while the object of Meg’s affections makes no attempt to hide from her whoever happens to be the most recent in a string of homosexual lovers. It soon become clear to Leonora that, while James continues to bring her gifts and to compete with his uncle for opportunities to take her on entertaining excursions she has competition from first a younger woman and then a younger man The proud Leonora has always protested that if she did not choose to live alone, she would not do so and that she enjoys her tranquil solitude, yet when James starts to pull away from her, to spend time first with his village mistress Phoebe Sharpe and then with his American lover Ned, there is an emptiness in her life that her pride cannot fill. She still has enough pride however, to reject James’s attempts at a reconciliation once his romantic flings are over.