In the present painting, two young women sit reading the tragic novel Paul et Virginie, popular in the early nineteenth century. The story tells of the separation of two destitute young lovers on the Isle of France (Mauritius). Virginie is called to Paris to live with an aunt, but she remains heartsick for Paul. Two years later, she makes the voyage back to the Isle of France only to be killed when her ship sinks within sight of Paul. Overcome with grief, Paul commits suicide.