This first novel by an elderly Italian nobleman, doctor and statesman is grand-scale and traditional, and it is set in Italy around the time of Garibaldi. It describes the life, family and grim evolution of a miserly country Baroness, Ippolita, whose antecedents account for some of her traits. She comes of a line of ambitious peasants who usurped the local Count's land, and her mother had poisoned her husband when he wished to spend his money on court life. Ippolita, married by chance to a huge German baron, a crude Hussar with immense appetites, is repelled by his vigor, and by marriage. She begins to side with her mother's parsimonious views. The Baron, grotesque and magnificent, fathers a child and, just before his death, Ippolita, for once driven by an irrational force, adopts the boy. But when her ""son"" and her pride grows to manhood, marries, and makes demands on her inheritance, the aging Baroness refuses him and eventually is left alone with her possessions.... A sombre story is told with grandeur, humor and detachment, is filled with real people and an immediate sense of the country and times in which they lived.