First the movie, then the book. This happens more than you'd expect. I suspect for most people it goes the other way if at all.
Jane is an orphan who is put into service at age fourteen. Very soon after that she begins a seven-year affair with the son of a neighboring family. Both the house Jane works in and her lover's home have suffered multiple deaths in the first World War. So death is very much a factor in the atmosphere here.
Of course, Jane's lover is not not to marry Jane but instead the wealthy daughter of another family. On the day of a luncheon just before the marriage, he rings Jane and they agree to meet. She has the day off because on Mothering Sunday, servants are given time off to visit their families. Although Jane has none she is sent off to read or enjoy her freedom.
The two lovers enjoy themselves and then he leaves and Jane spends some time wandering naked through the house, admiring books especially. She is a great reader, especially enjoying Joseph Conrad. Since her household was one composed of boys and men, all of the books are "boys" books.
Later she becomes a renown writer and enjoys a marriage with a philosopher.
This novel was very good at capturing the sensuality of its two young characters. It is also persuasive in its depiction of a writer in the making. The young man is trapped by his social class but also by what the war has done to his family. How can he let his family down again? He is not taking advantage of the servant girl. A nice change from so many stories about this period.
This was a terrific book and a terrific movie. It's rich in atmosphere, plot and character. I have liked other books by Swift: LAST ORDERS and WATERLAND,