The gaggle of Radlett girls and their friends are filled with excitement of the season and an unquenched curiosity about married life. Their eccentric childhood includes Lord Alconleigh "hunting" his offspring with bloodhounds for exercise.
Polly Montdore has grown into a haughty beauty, aloof to everyone, but dear to the Radlett girls. As her coming-out ball and the following year progress, Polly and her confidante Linda Radlett pursue matrimony--but not with the men their parents selected.
Despite disapproval from both families, Linda and Tony are determined to marry. Sonia's patience is strained as her daughter and husband stand their ground. Meanwhile, Polly resists her mother's meddling to pick a husband--until she meets Boy Dougdale.
Linda is trapped in a loveless marriage, and her in-laws refuse to let her to spend her pregnancy with her family. Polly's wedding to Boy Dougdale dissolves into disaster as Lady Montdore faces her estate's title falling into the hands of an unknown heir.
Cedric Hampton arrives at Hampton, thrilled and determined to make Lady Montdore a decent companion. Polly retreats to Sicily with her new husband but finds the heat stifling as her marriage cools. Christian Talbot, a penniless communist, wins Linda over.
Lady Montdore throws a Venetian ball featuring more than one startling revelation. The success buoys her mood enough to reconcile with Polly, who is consoling the loss of Boy's baby with a new admirer. Linda follows Christian to a refugee camp in France.
Penniless and stranded in Paris, Linda struggles to recover from her second failed marriage. A stranger at a train station offers aid, sparking a friendship. As the chance of a full-blown affair blooms, the onset of war threatens to separate the lovers.
In 1940, the Radletts are all doing their part for the war effort: Aunt Sadie stores crates for the Museum; Uncle Matt drills Defense Volunteers; and in London, Linda waits for Fabrice, despite his pleas that she retreat to the countryside for safety.