A novel by George Meredith which portrays life and love in upper-class Radical circles and satirises the Conservative establishment. Meredith himself was inclined to think it his best novel, and the character RenÃ©e de Croisnel was his favourite of his creations. Nevil Beauchamp is a young naval officer with high ideals of honour and public service who, having been wounded in the Crimean War, recovers his health in Venice. He there falls in love with a brilliant and high-spirited French girl, RenÃ©e de Croisnel, with whom he hopes to elope.
RenÃ©e marries an elderly French aristocrat instead, and Nevil takes up his naval career again. He falls under the influence of the republican and freethinking Dr. Shrapnel, thereby alienating his wealthy uncle Everard Romfrey, a staunchly Conservative peer. Nevil stands for Parliament as a Radical, but he is defeated. Everard horsewhips Dr. Shrapnel, and refuses when an outraged Nevil demands that he apologise. RenÃ©e now returns to claim Nevil, but he has meanwhile fallen in love with a beautiful Tory, Cecilia Halkett.