Léonor and Isabelle, orphaned on the death of their father, are committed by his deathbed wish to the guardianship of his friends Sganarelle and Ariste, with the additional charge that if Sganarelle and Ariste do not marry the young women, then the guardians are to provide suitable husbands for their wards. The two brothers have different ideas about the upbringing of the orphans. The elder, Ariste, chooses to conform to the fashions of the day but without going to extremes. He gives his ward, Léonor, the opportunity to attend balls and dances and meet the gallants of the city. Although he himself wishes to marry her, he loves Léonor sufficiently to leave the choice to her.
Sganarelle, in contrast, thinks that all this is foolish. Where Ariste hopes to govern only by affection, Sganarelle believes in the effectiveness of severity. He confines Isabelle strictly to her quarters and to household duties, thus keeping her from meeting any eligible young men. Determined to marry her himself, he hopes to discipline her to that end. When Sganarelle scoffs at his brother’s leniency and predicts that he will in the end be tricked by so young a wife, Léonor declares that if she marries her guardian she will be faithful to him, but if she were to be Sganarelle’s wife she would not be answerable for any of her actions.
Meanwhile, Valère, Sganarelle’s new neighbor, has fallen in love with Isabelle, whom he has seen at a distance, and Isabelle reciprocates his love; however, with no means of communication neither knows the true feelings of the other. Isabelle finally works out a plan to test Valère. She tells Sganarelle about Valère’s attentions and, knowing her guardian will then angrily accost Valère, declares that they are distasteful to her. Sganarelle asks Valère to cease molesting his ward and tells him that, even though Isabelle knows of Valère’s hopes, his is an unrequited passion—her only wish is to find happiness in marrying her guardian. Valère senses in this message something more that Isabelle hopes to convey to him.
Sganarelle tells Isabelle that Valère has been crushed by her harsh message. Isabelle, under the pretense of returning a letter that, according to her story, an accomplice of Valère’s had thrown into her chamber, persuades her guardian to deliver the note. Actually, it is a love letter that she has written to Valère. Sganarelle, taking her request as a touching example of model womanly behavior, delivers the letter, which tells of Isabelle’s resolve to break free of her prison at any cost during the six days remaining before her enforced marriage to her guardian. Valère, making use of Sganarelle to take back to Isabelle words showing the sincerity of his attachment, declares that his only hope had been to make her his wife and that, although he now realizes the hopelessness of his suit, he will always love her. First he flatters Sganarelle as an opponent no one could possibly displace, and then he shows himself so...
(The entire section is 1223 words.)