This is the fourth in Macdonald's Victorian dynasty series, and now that the Stevenson family fortune has been made, preachy stiffness is setting in: Nora Stevenson, once a Yorkshire starveling, is now a Countess, and the focus here is on the feminist consciousness-raising of her beautiful, bright-witted daughter Abigail. Through Abigail's cerebrations and causes, she becomes involved with three men: clever editor and publisher ""Pepe,"" who promotes Abigail's writing career but makes the mistake of gloatingly leaving her pregnant; Câ€šsar, a painter who inspires Abigail to paint while in Rome but who encourages dependence on his love; and 70-year-old French aristocrat Victor, best friend of Nora's radical brother, whom Abigail finally loves absolutely--in a communion of equals that Abigail achieves by refusing marriage, fighting the double standard, and thrashing out her own feelings about the relationship between lust and love. And throughout this search for Mr. Right, Abigail is coached by cockney Annie, a former maid and prostitute who tells Abigail all she needs to know about the oppression and humiliation of women; she also takes possession of Abigail's baby son and--eventually--marries Pepe as well. Macdonald is capable of lively dialogue and has concocted a plot of mad coincidences that should have resulted in sprightly fun, but--after a bouncy start--the thematic heavyhandedness deadens the proceedings, making this a dullish dip in Macdonald's generally stylish series.