The novel tells the story through the eyes of Beatrice Lacey, Quality daughter of the Squire, in love with the land, and frustrated by laws of the current day. Beatrice lives and breathes Wideacre, a lush farm land in Sussex; she owns the respect of all the local tenants in the village, she is a talented rider, she is an instinctive and gifted farmer. However, Beatrice knows that she will never inherit the land, due to her elder brother Harry, and the fact that when she marries she will be forced to leave her childhood home.
So she hatches plot after plot. She conspires with a local village boy she may or may not love and sets a plan into motion which ends in the murder of her beloved father. She is wracked with guilt, absolves herself of any blame, and attempts to kill the boy. She only manages to cripple him, but upon finding out he is still alive and has fled Wideacre, she is haunted by his inevitable revenge throughout the rest of the book.
Her plots get more incredulous and morally sickening. She seduces her brother and exercises her power over him and the estate by taking advantage of his penchant for sexual abuse. She becomes pregnant with his child and convinces her sister-in-law to adopt it as her own. She then gets pregnant again and marries her suitor to try to pass off the child as their own. Beatrice also finds a way to poison her mother when she eventually catches her and her brother in the act. Eventually, her most elaborate plot yet leads to her downfall and Wideacre's and she meets her timely end at her former lover's hand as prophesized.
Even though the events were hard to swallow, the book still managed to grip me and I had to know what Beatrice's outcome would be. As a character, she is polarising. I feel sympathy for her and women's rights during her time, but I also feel disgusted by some of the extreme actions she takes throughout the course of the book. It is fascinating how she manages to rationalise her actions for good, but in the end manages to cause ruin to everyone and everything she loves. None of the other characters in the book were interesting in comparison and a lot of them fell flat and were so one-dimensional it's not even worth mentioning them by name.
The novel was written with a lot of attention to detail, although the prose at times was rather long-winded. The writing did reflect the tone of the book well, and you fell into Beatrice's moods with her, from her sunny happiness to her drugged stupors. However, I felt that it was too much of the same for too long, and as someone who is 'town born and bred', I couldn't truly connect with Beatrice's ache for Wideacre. A solid 2.5 stars.