Opening on the French Riviera among a motley community of American expatriates, The Mother's Recompense tells the story of Kate Clephane and her reluctant return to New York society after being exiled years before for abandoning her husband and infant daughter. Oddly enough, Kate has been summoned back by that same daughter, Anne, now fully grown and intent on marrying Chris Fenno, a war hero, dilettante, and social opportunist. Chris's questionable intentions toward her daughter are, however, the least of Kate's worries since she was once, and still is, deeply in love with him. Kate's moral quandary and the ensuing drama evoke comparison with Oedipus and Hamlet and lead to an ending that startled the mores of the day.
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