Mark Castallack is a young boy at the beginning of the series, in the early 1880's. His mother Maud brings him for the first time to her ancestral family home called Penmarric, in Cornwall, England. She is alienated her from her family. Her only living relative is Giles Penmar, a distant cousin. Maud hopes that if Giles meets Mark, he might leave Penmarric to him instead of to his adopted children. Mark falls in love immediately with Cornwall and Penmarric, but does not return until he is a young man, in 1890.
While on holiday at the seaside, he meets a pretty young governess called Rose Parrish. He seduces her and she gets pregnant. She is in love with Mark and expects him to marry her, but he's already in love with an older, still young widow called Janna Roslyn, who lives on the farm next to Penmarric. Mark urges Rose to give the child up for adoption, but she refuses and tells him if she can't marry him, she'll raise the child on her own. Mark goes to Penmarric to see Giles Penmar, hoping to borrow money for Rose and the baby. He meets a grown up Clarissa, who flirts with him but he brushes her off. Giles gives Mark the money and tells him he will inherit Penmarric. Meanwhile, Mark's father finds out about his affair with Rose and is horrified. He is very ill and Mark tries to explain about Rose, but his father won't listen. Mark doesn't tell his father he is in love with Janna, but as his father dies, he tells Mark to look after Janna. Mark then discovers his father and Janna had been lovers for a long time.
The storyline now switches to Janna, who is broke. Her late husband, much older than she was, left her the farm but no income because he thought she was having an affair with his son from a previous marriage (not true). Janna truly loves Laurence, Mark's father, and is crushed by his death. He had been financially supporting her. Janna is from a lower-class background and longs only for a home and money of her own. Mark visits her to offer his condolences on the death of her lover, his father. Mark himself loves Janna but is put off by her affair with his father. They begin an affair and he eventually proposes marriage. She is older than he is but that is no deterrent. Janna accepts his proposal, they marry and move to Penmarric (Giles has died). Janna begins a self-improvement campaign to measure up to Mark; she takes elocution lessons to rid herself of her lower-class accent. She reads books to improve her mind but still feels inferior to Mark. They begin having children.
A few years after her marriage to Mark, Janna finds out about Rose Parrish. Mark has made regular visits to Rose and his son by her, and now Rose is pregnant again. Janna is furious and hurt, but Mark tells her Rose means nothing to him, that it was only a youthful indiscretion and he only loves her, Janna. Mark and Janna have more children together, and Janna tries to forget about "Mrs. Parrish" as Rose is known, although she isn't married.
Mark is a real cad as a husband, and leaves Janna and the children alone more and more to visit Oxford University to do research. Janna and Mark's children are growing up and their son Phillip is ready to go away to boarding school. Phillip is Janna's favourite child and she can't bear for him to go away. As a special treat, she takes him to Brighton, a seaside resort. While there, they meet Mark and Rose and their sons. Obviously neither Mark nor Janna knew the other would be at Brighton. A horrible scene ensures in which Mark calls Janna a whore, beats and rapes her. He tells her he wants a divorce to marry Rose Parrish. She says she will never consent to one.
After this, Mark and Janna legally separate, and because she is from a lower class background and wants to return to her farm to live, Mark gets custody of the children, except for the baby resulting from the rape. He moves them, along with Rose Parrish and their two sons, to Oxford, hundreds of miles away, where they live on a beautiful estate. Naturally, the Castallack children and their half-siblings, the Parrish boys, hate each other. Rose becomes ill with tuberculosis, and Mark begs Janna for a divorce so he can marry her before she dies, but Janna refuses. She hates Mark for taking her children away from her. She also hates Jan-Yves, the baby born as the result of Mark's raping her. She leaves him at Penmarric to be raised by servants and returns to her farm to live, where she feels safe and peaceful.
After Rose's death, Mark moves all his children back to Penmarric, where the Parrish boys feel out of place. Mark introduces them as his "wards," which fools no one because they resemble Mark in appearance. The Castallack children are reunited with their mother, but since they are almost grown and haven't seen her for so many years, they never really become close to her. All except Phillip, who moves to the farm to live with her. He refuses to attend college and works on the farm, much to the disdain of his father Mark. Phillip is also sexually confused, which is a keystone to the plot later on.moreless