Young and pretty Ellie Dunn is the first of many guests to arrive at the Sussex, England, home of Captain Shotover. Ellie, who was invited by Mrs. Hushabye, Captain Shotover’s eldest daughter, will eventually rename the home Heartbreak House because of all the disappointments she and others experience there that day.
When Ellie arrives at the house, there is no one to greet her, and she sits reading William Shakespeare until she falls asleep. The elderly servant, Nurse Guinness, finally discovers Ellie just before the arrival of another visitor, Shotover’s younger daughter, Lady Utterword, who is returning home after having been away from England for twenty-three years.
Mrs. Hushabye invited Ellie, her father Mazzini Dunn, and Ellie’s fiancé, Boss Mangan, to Captain Shotover’s house because she wants to persuade Ellie not to marry Mangan, a millionaire industrialist who has befriended Ellie’s father. Mangan gave Dunn money to begin a business that failed after two years, after which Mangan bought the business, which then thrived, and gave Dunn a job managing it. Mrs. Hushabye wants Ellie to marry someone she loves rather than someone to whom her father owes a debt.
In a conversation with Mrs. Hushabye, Ellie reveals that she has a secret passion for a mysterious man she has just met, a romantic adventurer named Marcus Darnley. When Mrs. Hushabye’s husband, Hector, enters the room, Ellie discovers that Marcus Darnley was an assumed identity of Hector himself, who has been telling Ellie extravagant stories to impress her. Ellie is heartbroken and angry at her gullibility. Mrs. Hushabye tells her that heartbreak is just life’s way of educating her.
Boss Mangan finally makes his appearance, and the process of his heartbreak begins when Captain Shotover predicts that Mrs. Hushabye will see to it that Mangan does not marry Ellie. The next visitor to arrive is Randall Utterword, Lady Utterword’s brother-in-law. Randall has invited himself to the house after hearing from his brother that Lady Utterword is staying there. Meanwhile, when Hector meets Lady Utterword, he immediately falls in love with her, initiating the process of his heartbreak.
After dinner, in conversation with Ellie, Mangan reveals that he ruined Ellie’s father intentionally: He gave him money to start the business knowing that Dunn would fail, because he saw this strategy as a cost-efficient way to take over a new enterprise. Ellie declares that she is still...
(The entire section is 1020 words.)