Valère, the steward of Harpagon’s house, is in love with his employer’s daughter, Élise. Valère is sure that he is of a good family, but until he can find his relatives he has little hope that Harpagon will give his consent to a marriage between his daughter and his steward. Harpagon is a miser of such great avarice and stinginess that he loves nothing but money. He lives in constant fear that someone will rob him of the large sum he has buried in his garden. Valère knows that his only hope lies in gaining Harpagon’s affection by flattering the old man shamelessly.
Harpagon’s son, Cléante, is also in love. The object of his love is Mariane, a poor girl who lives with her widowed mother. Cléante’s love is as hopeless as that between his sister, Élise, and Valère. Since Mariane has no money, Harpagon will not consent to a marriage, and Cléante keeps his love for the girl from his father. What he does not know is that his father has seen Mariane and wants her for himself. He has been a widower for many years, and the young girl’s beauty makes him desire her. He must first, however, secure a dowry for her; his miserliness is stronger than his love.
Élise learns from her father that, against her wishes, she is to be married to Anselme, a wealthy man fifty years old. The fact that Anselme will take his daughter without a dowry is too good a proposition for Harpagon to miss. Élise appeals to Valère for help. The clever lad pretends to agree with her father while he whispers to her to take heart and trust him to prevent the marriage. If all else fails, he and Élise will flee from the house and be married without her father’s consent.
Cléante is so determined to marry Mariane that he arranges through an agent to borrow from a moneylender. Never is a higher rate of interest demanded. Cléante is to pay twenty-five percent interest and to take part of the loan in goods which he must sell. With no choice but to agree, he meets the moneylender. He is horrified to find that the moneylender is his own father. Harpagon is equally angry that his son should be such a spendthrift that he must borrow money at such high rates. The two part without completing the loan, Cléante to try to arrange a loan elsewhere and Harpagon to try to secure a dowry for Mariane.
Harpagon arranges a party in honor of Mariane, whom he has not as yet met. He cautions the servants to be very sparing with the food and drink, as it is an injustice to one’s guests to stuff them full. Although Mariane finds...
(The entire section is 1038 words.)