Cecilia Beverley, just short of her majority, is left ten thousand pounds by her father and an annual income of three thousand pounds by her uncle, the latter inheritance being restricted by the condition that her husband take her name. Until her coming of age, she is expected to live with one of her guardians, the fashionable spendthrift Mr. Harrel, husband of a girlhood friend. One who warns her against the evils of London is Mr. Monckton, her clever and unscrupulous counselor. His secret intention is to marry Cecilia; at present, however, he is prevented by the existence of an old and ill-tempered wife, whom he married for money.
The constant round of parties in London and the dissipation of the Harrels are repugnant to Cecilia. Kind but unimpressive Mr. Arnott, Mrs. Harrel’s brother, falls hopelessly in love with the girl, but Harrel obviously intends her for his friend, insolent Sir Robert Floyer, whom Cecilia detests. After vainly begging Harrel to pay a bill, which Arnott finally pays, Cecilia becomes so disgusted with the Harrels’ way of life that she decides to leave their household. However, she finds the abode of her miserly guardian, Mr. Briggs, so comfortless and is so repulsed by the pride and condescension of her third guardian, Mr. Delvile, that she decides to remain with the Harrels.
At a masquerade party, she is pursued by a man disguised as the devil. He is Monckton in disguise, attempting to keep others away from her. She is rescued first by a Don Quixote and later by a domino whose conversation pleases her greatly. At first, she believes the domino is Mr. Belfield, a young man she met before. Later, she is surprised to learn that Don Quixote was Belfield. Angered at Cecilia’s courtesy to Belfield, Sir Robert insults him at the opera; a duel results, and Belfield is wounded. A young man, Mortimer Delvile, who is courteously attentive to Cecilia, proves to be the domino and the only son of her guardian. He is the pride and hope of his family, whose fortune he is to recoup by marriage. Cecilia visits his mother and is charmed by her graciousness and wit. She is disturbed, however, by the knowledge that she is universally believed to be betrothed to either Sir Robert or Belfield. Monckton, feeling that the Delviles are the only threat to him, attempts to destroy her friendship with them.
Cecilia meets and immediately likes Henrietta Belfield. When she visits her new friend, she finds Henrietta nursing her wounded brother, whom Mortimer wishes to aid. Seeing Cecilia there, Mortimer believes that she is in love with Belfield. Having been educated above his station, Belfield has grown to feel contempt for business. He is clever and pleasant but unable to settle down to anything. Although Cecilia refuses Sir Robert’s proposal, she sees that Harrel is still bent on the marriage. Monckton’s constant warnings against the Delviles disturbs her, for she is now in love with Mortimer. Knowing his father’s pride, however, she determines to conquer her feelings.
Cecilia, who previously discharged some debts for Harrel, is now so alarmed by his threats of suicide that she pledges herself to a total of seven thousand additional pounds. Since Briggs will not advance the money, she is forced to borrow from a usurer.
Mortimer, learning that Cecilia loves neither Sir Robert nor Belfield, betrays his own love for her—and then avoids her. Cecilia discovers that Henrietta is in love with Mortimer. Mrs. Belfield, believing that Cecilia loves her son, constantly urges...
(The entire section is 1444 words.)