Theodore Colville is a respected newspaperman in Des Vaches, Indiana. He is the editor of the Democratic-Republican, which he bought from his brother. But after a bad political move, his fans criticize him and his pride cannot withstand that. Colville decides that he needs to take a long vacation so he travels to Florence. In Florence he runs into a person he wasn't eager to ever see again, Mrs. Bowen, whom he once knew as Lina Ridgely. She is a widow and has a young daughter Effie Bowen. They have a surprisingly pleasant chat and she invites him to a gathering at her home, Palazzo Pinti, that evening. He accepts the invitation. Howells was a realist writer who wanted «his characters to be honest, ordinary people, as he might find in his strata of society, flawed and well-meaning, good-hearted and self-effacing, bound by the conventions and the restrictions of their day but quietly dreaming of a little local heroism in their souls.” All of this is encompassed in the character Theodore Colville. The setting for this novel was inspired by a trip Howells had recently taken with his family to Europe.
William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist author, literary critic, and playwright. Howells is known to be the father of American realism, and a denouncer of the sentimental novel. He was the first American author to bring a realist aesthetic to the literature of the United States. His stories of Boston upper crust life set in the 1850s are highly regarded among scholars of American fiction.