The plot largely concerns the farmer Michel Corbier, a dissenter who is left a widower at the age of thirty, has two young children, and employs the twenty-seven-year-old dissenter Madeleine (the Nêne of the title), who goes out of her way to look after Michel's children almost as her own, and they in turn treat her almost as their own mother. She certainly has unexpressed sexual feelings towards Michel.
This is a novel of insane hatred and a violence not directly caused by the aggressor, but by his psychological scheming, by his lies. Boiseriot is a Catholic who has worked for Corbier, is spreading lies that Madeleine and Michel have an 'illicit' relationship, and is delighted when his plans go absolutely according to plan. The fact that he encouraged Madeleine's brother to get drunk until he loses his arm in a threshing machine and makes light of his implications in confession, knowing that the priest he's chosen won't ask further questions, is just part of his evil machinations.
He has a twenty-year-old beautiful god-daughter Madelon (also of course a Catholic), whom Madeleine's brother intended to marry. And then Michel meets her and is immediately smitten. He is prepared to abandon his religion to marry her, which he does, and which forces Madeleine out of the house.
When Madeleine returns to see the children just two weeks after the marriage they have all but forgotten her, which drives the knife further into her heart. The deep pond is near.
The Pérochon family left the author's house to the town of Niort on the condition that it be used for cultural purposes, and it is now open with photographic displays: La Villa Pérochon.