Absolutely fascinating novel, weaving a number of stories around the theme of the so called “surplus women” of the Victorian era. This it turns out was actually a thing; the 1851 census recorded 400,000 more women than men over the age of 20. No-one really knew what led to this, but in a society where the only respectable occupation for a middle class woman other than marriage was to be a governess or paid companion, the result was a great deal of misery for thousands of single women of limited means.
The novel is full of all kinds of for-the-time radical notions and is quite prescient about the likely impact on society of a more equal approach to marriage, work, education and so forth (it was published in 1893).
It’s also a pretty good read, with some well rounded characters. Annoyingly atheistic, but that was the spirit of the age amongst progressive thinking types (much like today)