If the narrative of this novel confined itself to simply reporting external events, it would probably be no more than 50 pages long, rather than the 400+ pages it actually is. Not that this would be as good thing. The self-conscious, ambiguous narration is enough to make literature students (such as myself) jump for joy. The narrator explicitly acknowledges his own presence, and the limits of his knowledge, and immerses the reader in a hall of mirrors, where he dips in and out of characters' consciousnesses, and sometimes reports what characters think that other characters are thinking! The plot revolves around Boston and New York societies, and the spate of reformist groups in the wake of the Civil War - particularly those championing the rights of women. James subtly probes the finer points of the motives of individuals for engaging in or opposing such movements, and succeeds in creating psychologically real characters. The novel is weighty, not something one can dip in and out of, but close reading is extremely rewarding.