At a wake one night in 1945, a group of aged women recall the life of one of their number. Sixty years before, Thérèse was barely 20 years old when she eloped with her boyfriend, Firmin, a blacksmith, to Châtillon, a town in Provence. Here, she makes the acquaintance of the wealthy Madame Numance, who is known for her good deeds. Realising that Thérèse is pregnant and unemployed, Madame Numance insists that she moves into a house on her estate. Whilst Firmin resents the arrangement, Thérèse soon finds that she can exploit the situation, using her benefactor's naivety and generosity for her own gain..