The painting depicts two women sitting in a room. The woman on the right is reading a book, leaning on a table covered with a decorative patterned tablecloth and a vase with some flowers. The other woman, on the left, seems not to listen to the reading as she appears to be distracted. Both the background wall, which holds a large part of the painting, and the black dresses of both women are very austere.
The theme of the work evokes the idea of escape provided by reading. The woman on the left represents the artist's sister-in-law, Charlotte Dubourg. The painting was exhibited in 1877 at the Salon (Paris), in 1878 at the summer exhibition of the Royal Academy in London, and in 1900 at the Société des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
During the Biennial of Contemporary Art in 2009 in Lyon, artist Wong Hoy Cheong reinterpreted the painting in a photograph of Muslim women wearing a burqa.