"Boy" Stevenson and his brother Caspar have a problem: they are the two eldest sons of John Stevenson, one of the richest men in the world. Their mother, Nora, also has a considerable private fortune of her own. By their own skill, by luck, and by ruthlessness, they made their way to the top of the money tree. But Society has been slow to accept them, for in early Victorian England all the money in the world could not guarantee entry into the exclusive inner world of privilege. John believes that Society will eventually accept them, but only if they behave absolutely correctly; none of them must step out of line, not even to flout the most trivial of conventions. Nora is not willing to pay so high a price. And Caspar, as he grows up, finds himself increasing rebelling against the neat army career his father has decreed for him. Casper's older brother, Boy, is by contrast the soul of convention. His one aim in life is to obey his father and to do his duty. Yet, by an astonishing chain of events he, too, is led into open defiance of John. These tensions, which threaten to tear the family apart link the many separate dramas of the story as these four utterly different people cope with the love-hates of family life.