Joyce Stevenson is thirteen when her widowed mother takes them to live with Aunt Vera, a formidable teacher neglected by her unfaithful husband. Joyce watches the two sisters - her aunt's unbending dedication to the life of the mind, her mother worn down by housework - and thinks that each of them is powerless in her own way. For Joyce, art school provides an escape route, and there she falls in love with one of her teachers. When she marries and has children, she is determined to manage her relationship with a new freedom, and to save herself from the mistakes of the previous generation. But her daughter Zoe, growing up, comes to see Joyce as a bourgeois housewife, and when Zoe has a baby of her own, she demands more from motherhood...