Eve Kline is of a particular generation as well as of a particular class. Raised to be a wife and mother, taught that to ask for more out of life is to be, if not un-natural, then certainly ridiculous, she finds herself nearer the end than the beginning of life, without the education she had longed for, without a fulfilling career, without a partner’s support and relief, without children to provide purpose, and without energy, confidence, or direction. So, to George Elliot’s blithe statement, It is never too late to be what you might have been, Eve’s response might be: Don’t be an ass. Of course it’s too late.
Eve has come to Cambridge, to visit her daughter Lily who studies there on a post-graduate scholarship. This exclusive university town, along with all it represents, amplifies Eve’s feelings of anger and shame. She realizes that she envies Lily and the realization strikes like a rock to the temple. Envy, to Eve, is the ugliest of sins, unspeakable, sickening. And to envy one’s own child is akin to prolicide or, at the very least, the unbearable wish to see Lily brought low. These unnatural desires throw Eve into a manic state in which she believes she has the ability to fix the world.