The life of the North Italian landed gentry in the early years of this century may well have been as tedious and empty as this fictional chronicle makes it out to be, partly by being overlong and somewhat boring itself. At forty-five, Pietro, master of San Damiano and mayor of the small village, takes nominal leave of his earthy mistress and demanding tenant, Regina, to take the hotelkeeper's pious daughter for a wife. Moria-Assunta's efforts to redeem Pietro for the Church by a vapid rhythm of devotions and confessions never succeed in evicting Regina from his land or his affections. Years pass in empty patterns, Pietro dies, and their son Giovanni becomes the object of Maria-Assunta's excessive pieties. Alas for her faith, he grows away from her intentions for his priesthood and from her as well, turning to Pietro's ""vulgar"" ways, but incapable of the grace to enjoy them. The results of her ""long madness"" in unseeing faith and religious deception bring Maria-Assunta to a fruitless, if still pious, senility. Ritualized Catholicism is a convincing villain, but its villainy is portrayed here with a little too much of an outdated nineteenth century gloss. Almost a period piece.