Act 1 introduces the Tiffany household and demonstrates Elizabeth Tiffany’s slavish adherence to fashion. Humor lies in her use of French terms that she cannot pronounce and her attempts to transform her slave Zeke into Adolph, a continental butler. In conversation, Prudence, Elizabeth’s sister, reveals their humble origins, but Elizabeth sees herself as “fashionable.” She is a patron of T. Tennyson Twinkle, who maintains that a poet’s “velocity of composition” is the best measure of excellence. Another “fashionable” visitor is Augustus Fogg, a “drawing room appendage” who is indifferent to any subject mentioned. When Count Jolimaitre arrives, Elizabeth maneuvers him toward Seraphina, her daughter, but her machinations are thwarted by the arrival of Adam Trueman, an old farmer, who is openly contemptuous of everyone’s pretensions. Elizabeth considers Adam crude and threatens to throw him out.
In act 2, scene 1, Elizabeth’s husband, Anthony, and his clerk, Snobson, discuss their illegal business activities in Anthony’s office. Snobson threatens to reveal Anthony’s forgeries unless Snobson can marry Seraphina, and Anthony agrees to allow this courtship of his daughter. He indicates, however, his hopes for financial rescue from Adam, his father’s friend. When Adam arrives, he comments upon Anthony’s changed attitudes and values.
In a series of conversations during scene 2, characters reveal their interrelationships. Seraphina’s governess, Gertrude, and her suitor, Colonel Howard, are revealed as honorable characters, and their mutual affection is established. Gertrude’s encounter with Jolimaitre clearly demonstrates the contrast between his character and that of Howard. Adam overhears the count’s improper advances to Gertrude, and hostility between the two...
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