18 year old Barbara Langworthy comes from a proud old Virginian family, but feels herself wasting away in her small Virginian town where she knows everyone and lives with her adored brother Gilbert and his bitchy, jealous wife, Anita. She ends up marrying Rhodes, a man who adores her but is 30 years older. Timid and frightened by physical intimacy with her new husband, they haven't consummated the marriage when both Rhodes and her brother Gilbert are killed in a carriage accident. Anita hates her for Gilbert's death and tell Barbara she owes her her life after stealing Gilbert from her. Full of guilt, Barbara goes to school in the east, but just as she feels free to live her own life, Anita, who is now an invalid forces her to come back and take care for her. Barbara gives up years of her life caring for Anita, until she is able to escape for a summer to Tahoe in California. In the freeing mountains, she meets a man from her town, Leonard. They pass the summer in an 'idyll' after Leonard asks Barbara to have a relationship with him so he can see if he loves her. (The text states that he never would have done that if he had known she was still a virgin). Barbara has to go back home after, Leonard letter's are first ardent but then shorter and less frequent, while Stephen, another man she has grown up with, loses his law license and his fiancee after being unfairly convicted of fraud. Eventually, Anita dies and Barbara goes to Pasedena to teach at a friend's school. She enters into a secret marriage, but eventually he tells her he can't love her - not before she sees him cheating on her with a woman he used to love. She breaks it off with him, even after she learns she is pregnant with his baby. She goes back to Virginia where Stephen take her in. Leonard finds out she had their baby but she refuses him marriage again. She and Stephen fall in love and marry.
REVIEW: This book was a bit of a struggle. Somehow it kept my interest enough to finish it. It felt like it was written much earlier than 1915. It was also - albeit probably true to the time and place (Virginia)- also pretty racist in parts. Both in the character's attitudes and the narrator's.
The heroine was kind of annoying. The first plot twist was crazy and melodramatic. Leonard was a complete asshole, and Barbara was completely fooling herself for most of the book. It made sense, since she had no experience with love or men. But it still annoyed me. He was such a pretentious dickhead. I was glad she ended up with Stephen. It did have some interesting plot twists - the unconventional relationship she embarked on with Stephen, and her justifications to herself. Everything about propriety and how social conventions are there to protect women's hearts so they don't give themselves without an assurance of 'rights' to the man they love. Barbara's insistence that her baby was better off with no father was better than a father she couldn't trust to be a decent person. Her refusal to marry for the third time if she and Stephen didn't love each other.