Destitute in the steel-making town of Dowlais Anna married for security when she was told the lie that her father was dead. However, an industrial town was not for a girl who had been brought up in a middle class home and educated. The humble home and the drudgery it brings from the work of a steel-making husband were not for her. Her feminist leanings soon found sympathy with the suffragette movement and she fled to London to join the cause. For several years she gave her full support often getting into trouble. Arrested for illegal activity she was jailed, force-fed almost to death at Holloway and thrown out before her demise should embarrass the authorities. She was rescued by her aristocratic friend who secured a job for her as a maid with an upper class household. The master`s son attempted to rape her, she fought him off injuring him. Accused of seduction she was sacked and blacklisted. Rescued from suicide by a man she had befriended, he persuaded her to return to Wales.
Back in Dowlais she fell in love and married Emlyn, a collier, believing her first husband had died. After having four children the marriage turned sour when her in-laws despised her and the work that comes with a large family wore her down. The marriage was at a crisis point when John, her first husband, turned up and claimed her. Seeing a way out of her despair, she left her children with Emlyn and re-joined John.
For a time John`s elevated position as a supervisor in the steelworks gave her the life she had wanted. Tragedy struck when John died in an accident at work leaving her with two children. On his death bed he confessed he had lied to her years ago: her father was alive. She embarked on a two-year campaign to search for her father leaving her children with a neighbour. The search was futile, what`s more John`s relatives had come to claim her children accusing Anna of neglect.
Again, under desperate circumstances she married a man older than herself for security. However, he was in ill health and he died several years later leaving Anna destitute and with two young children. Alcohol and self-neglect took over until she ended in a home for the aged where she learned the truth about her father after he had died. She had known him almost all her adult life but never thought that he, an ageing evangelist she had befriended, could ever be her father.
The story covers many subjects including love, class distinction, war, religion and poverty in a cosmopolitan community. It`s a mixture of heartache and drama but has its moments of comedy as well as apathy, keeping the reader enthralled in the novel till the last page.