The girl from Paris is Ellen Paget, who starts out in 1860 as the girl from Brussels: though English-born, 21-year-old Ellen has spent the past few years as a student and then a teacher at the exclusive Pensionnat girls' school. Now, however, the school's directress has become disenchanted with lovely semi-aristocrat Ellen (who's winning the excessive devotion of the school's resident philosopher/professor). So Ellen's godmother whisks her off to Paris--where she's to become governess in the home of the young Comte de la Ferte. But the Comte's is a strange menage, to put it mildly: the Comtesse ignores her husband, doting instead on her live-in Sapphic companion, earthy novelist Germaine de Rhetoree; the Comtesse shines in her literary salon (cameos by Flaubert et al.), while her husband entertains the mindless, chichi crowd in his gaming rooms; their little daughter is hyperactive and understandably unstable. And the household tensions--the Comte is pressuring his wife about producing a son--will lead to a tragic suicide/murder, with poor Ellen somewhat tainted by the scandal. At that point, then, the scene switches entirely over to Britain--as Ellen goes home to her own family complications at the Paget manse ("the Hermitage") in England. Old, bitter father Luke, whose second wife has recently been killed in an accident, is in danger of being taken over by a fortune-hunting housekeeper. Ellen's younger brother Gerard, a gifted musician who prefers the company of shepherds, is being pushed into law. Little half-sister Vicky is being neglected. Stepbrother Benedict is waspishly argumentative. And, finally, when Luke does indeed seem to be bequeathing his fortune to the shady housekeeper, Ellen's sisters abduct the old man--so Ellen, with help from Benedict (love blooms), must rescue her mad, foul father . . . for the sake of her dead, beloved mother. Aiken's plotting this time around is awfully choppy: the France/England halves of the book hardly connect; the Gerard subplot (which ends violently) is drastically underdeveloped; and the delicious light touch of The Smile of the Stranger is nearly nonexistent here. Nonetheless, her no-nonsense tone and offbeat panache move the fragmented episodes along quite spiffily--and the many Aiken fans will find this a lively smorgasbord of un-frilly period entanglements, with some quasi-feminist resonances.