Pym herself described this early novel as "as good as anything I ever did".
The action takes place in North Oxford, some time before World War II. Miss Doggett and her companion Miss Morrow, characters who reappear in another Pym novel, Jane and Prudence, like to entertain students and young clergy at their Victorian home in Banbury Road which is gloomy and surrounded with laurel bushes. When an unmarried curate, Mr. Latimer, comes to lodge at their house, he sees the homely Jessie Morrow as a suitable potential wife, but she rejects his proposal, knowing that he has no real interest in her. Meanwhile, Miss Doggett's cousin, the don Francis Cleveland, a Reader at the fictitious Randolph College, falls in love with and contemplates an extramarital affair with one of his students, Barbara Bird, but returns disappointed to his wife Margaret.
In the book, Crampton Hodnet is mentioned by Mr. Latimer as a village which he pretends he was visiting when he was actually out walking with Miss Morrow.