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In this novel it goes about five young people (a female governess, a doctor, a law student, and two young middle class ladies) and their intricate love affairs. The persecution of four of the five by the novel's villain has dramatic and extreme consequences. Three of the five characters are suicidally depressed for a rather big part of the book. But always in every chapter there is some social satire or some comic turn that balances out the character's melancholy. The children in the novel are particularly realistic and add lots of humor to the book. The true obstacle caused by the villain's persecution (as well as by genuine social ills) makes the characters to overcome their depressions and become better people. Their choice to choose love and honesty is celebrated and ultimately rewarded in this tale of village life. Martineau periodically inserts mini-essays of a paragraph or two on various issues ranging from what activities drive away depression to the impact of near-death experiences that are nice little pieces.
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