Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1304
All of fashionable London is amazed and shocked when the beautiful and charming Diana Warwick suddenly leaves her husband’s house. The marriage was ill-fated from the start, for Augustus Warwick, a calculating, ambitious politician, considered the marriage to Diana as largely one of convenience. Diana, for her part, accepted his proposal as a refuge from the unwelcome attentions to which her position as an orphan exposed her.
Diana Merion first appears in society at a state ball in Dublin, where her unspoiled charm and beauty attract many admirers. Lady Emma Dunstane introduces Diana to Thomas Redworth, a friend of her husband, Sir Lukin Dunstane. Redworth’s attentions so enrage Mr. Sullivan Smith, a hot-tempered Irishman, that he attempts to provoke the Englishman to a duel. Redworth pacifies the Irishman, however, to avoid compromising Diana by a duel fought on her account.
Later, while visiting Lady Emma at Copsley, the Dunstane country home in England, Diana is forced to rebuff Sir Lukin when he attempts to make love to her. Leaving Copsley, she goes to visit the Warwicks. Thomas tells Lady Emma that he loves Diana, but by then it is too late. Diana has already agreed to marry Augustus Warwick.
In London, the Warwicks live in a large house and entertain lavishly. Among their intimates is Lord Dannisburgh, an elderly peer who becomes Diana’s friend and adviser. While Warwick is away on a government mission, the two are often seen together, and Diana is so indiscreet as to let Lord Dannisburgh accompany her when she goes to visit Lady Emma, which gives rise to unkind gossip. On his return, Warwick, who is incapable of understanding that his wife is innocent, serves Diana with a divorce suit in which he accuses her of infidelity and names Lord Dannisburgh as correspondent. Diana disappears from Warwick’s house and from London. In a letter, she tells Lady Emma that she intends to leave England. Her friend, realizing that flight will be tantamount to confession, feels sure that before she leaves the country, Diana will go to Crossways, her father’s old home. Determined that Diana should remain and boldly defend herself, Lady Emma sends Redworth to Crossways with instructions to detain Diana and persuade her to stay with the Dunstanes at Copsley.
Lady Emma guesses correctly; Diana is at Crossways with her maid. At first, she is unwilling to see Lady Emma’s point of view, for she thinks of her flight as a disdainful stepping aside from Warwick’s sordid accusations; finally, however, she gives in to Redworth’s arguments and returns with him to Copsley.
Although the court returns a verdict of not guilty to the charge Warwick brings against her, Diana feels that her honor is ruined and that in the eyes of the world she is guilty. For a time, she is able to forget her own distress by nursing her friend, Lady Emma, who is seriously ill. Later, she leaves England to go on a Mediterranean cruise. Before her departure, she writes a book entitled The Princess Egeria.
In Egypt, she meets Redworth, now a brilliant member of Parliament. He is accompanied by Sir Percy Dacier, Lord Dannisburgh’s nephew and a rising young politician, who falls in love with her and follows her to the Continent. He is recalled to London by the illness of his uncle. Diana follows a short time later and learns on her arrival in London that Redworth is active in making her book a literary triumph. He arouses interest among the critics because he knows that Diana is in need of money.
Lord Dannisburgh dies, with Diana at his bedside during his last illness. He is her friend, and she pays him that last tribute of friendship and respect regardless of the storm of criticism it elicits. When Lord Dannisburgh’s will is read, it is learned that he left a sum of money to Diana.
In the meantime, Diana inadvertently makes an enemy of the socially ambitious Mrs. Wathin, who thinks it her social duty to tear Diana’s reputation to shreds. In part, her dislike is motivated by jealousy that Diana should be accepted by people who would not tolerate her. Her actions are also inspired by Warwick, Mrs. Wathin’s friend, who, once he loses his suit against Diana, tries to force his wife to return to him.
Sir Percy’s attentions are distressing to Diana. She is half in love with him but is still legally bound to Warwick. She faces a crisis when Mrs. Wathin calls to announce that Warwick, now ill, wants Diana to return and act as his nurse. Diana refuses, whereupon Warwick threatens to exercise his legal rights as her husband. Sir Percy, who informs her of Warwick’s intention, asks her to elope with him to Paris. She agrees but is saved from that folly by Redworth, who arrives to tell her that Lady Emma is ill and about to undergo a serious operation at Copsley. Diana goes with him to be at her friend’s side.
Lady Emma nearly dies, and the gravity of her condition restores Diana’s own sense of responsibility. She orders Sir Percy to forget her. He continues to pursue her, however. One day, he confides the tremendous political secret that the prime minister is about to call on Parliament to pass some revolutionary reform measures. Then he attempts to resume his former courtship, but Diana refuses to listen to him; she feels that if she cannot not have Sir Percy as a lover, she cannot keep him as a friend.
Because Diana is in desperate need of money—she was forced to sell Crossways to pay her debts, and her later novels did not bring her any money—she goes to the editor of a paper that opposes the government party and sells him the information Sir Percy gave to her.
When the paper appears with a full disclosure of the prime minister’s plan, Sir Percy accuses her of having betrayed him and discontinues his friendship with her. A short time later, he proposes to a young lady of fortune. About the same time, Warwick is struck down by a cab in the street and killed. Diana has her freedom at last, but she is not happy, knowing she is in public disgrace. Although she burns the check in payment for the information she disclosed, it is common knowledge that she betrayed Sir Percy and that he retaliated by marrying Constance Asper, an heiress. When Sullivan Smith proposes marriage, Diana refuses him and seeks refuge in the company of her old friend, Lady Emma. Her stay at Copsley frees her of her memories of Sir Percy, so much so that on her return to London she is able to greet him and his bride with dignity and charm. Her wit is as sharp as ever, and she takes pleasure in revenging herself upon those who attempted to destroy her reputation with their gossip and slander.
On another visit to Copsley, she meets Redworth again, who is now a railroad promoter and still a distinguished member of Parliament. When he invites her and Lady Emma to visit Crossways, Diana learns that Redworth bought her old home and furnished it with the London possessions she was forced to sell. He bluntly tells Diana that he bought the house and furnished it for her because he expects her to become his wife. Not wishing to involve him in the scandals that circulated about her for so long, she at first pretends indifference to his abrupt wooing. Lady Emma urges her to marry Redworth, however, since he has loved her for many years. At last, aware that she brings no real disgrace to Redworth’s name, she consents to become his wife.
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