At the height of the Industrial Revolution, two women struggle to break free of the conventions that bind them. Cara, poor and beautiful, dreams of evading the menacing shadow of the workhouse, of becoming both financially independent and free of her protector, the ruthless Captain Christie. Gemma, daughter of Victorian luxury, marries to oblige her family and struggles to escape the smothering constraints of `good' society, where a woman is valued purely for her charm and her childbearing. And both women, from very different backgrounds, find the political idealist and man of fortune Daniel Carey, irresistible . . .