When Iris, 45, divorces her wealthy physician husband of many years to go off to a new life with the man she loves, she settles for a quick but inequitable divorce. When her lover then abandons her, she finds herself alone, desperate and without resources.
Unprepared to earn her own living, she fails at one job after another and loses all confidence. Iris finally decides to use the one skill she acquired in her marriage—housekeeping. To the dismay of her friends and her daughter, she takes a job as housekeeper in the luxurious Maine summer home of Broadway lawyer Leo Tanner and his wife Paula.
It soon becomes clear that Paula has no life of her own—her entire life revolves around her husband and their troubled daughter, Beth. It also grows clear that the role of Iris is more that of maid than housekeeper. Paula is cold and arrogant, and makes unreasonable demands, which Iris must cater to because she needs the job.
Gradually Iris makes friends in the community, begins to regain confidence, and is determined to work her way through to independence. Paula suffers a crushing double blow when her daughter runs off with an unscrupulous young man and Leo demands a divorce. In anguish, Paula reaches out to Iris and they become tentative friends. But Iris fears she will lose her chance of independence if she stays with Paula. In taking steps to make a life of her own, Iris sets in motion a chain of unforeseen events for Paula.
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