(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Young Lionel Carteret is madly in love with Mrs. Dane, a woman three years older than he. The difference in their ages is not too important to those who love the young man, but Mrs. Dane’s reputation makes them try to dissuade Lionel from his attachment. Mrs. Bulsom-Porter, a local gossip, has been told by her nephew, James Risby, that Mrs. Dane is actually Felicia Hindemarsh.

Miss Hindemarsh had, five years previously, been involved in a horrible scandal in Vienna, in which she had had an affair with a married man for whom she worked as a governess. The wife, learning of the affair, had committed suicide, and the man himself is still in an insane asylum. Risby, however, had since told Mrs. Bulsom-Porter that he had been mistaken. Although he thought that Mrs. Dane is Felicia Hindemarsh, he is now completely convinced that he had been wrong. In fact, he now declares that Mrs. Dane hardly resembles the sinful Miss Hindemarsh. His retraction means little to Mrs. Bulsom-Porter, who knows absolutely nothing of Mrs. Dane except that she is attractive and charming. Those qualities are enough to make Mrs. Bulsom-Porter hate her, and she continues to spread the story about Mrs. Dane’s past, without admitting that there might be some doubt about her story.

Lionel had been deeply in love with Janet Colquhoun the year before, but is persuaded by Sir Daniel Carteret, his foster father, to wait before he asks her to marry him. Sir Daniel tries to make Lionel see that his latest infatuation might also pass away, but Lionel will not listen to that well-meaning advice. He accuses Sir Daniel of never having known love. The young man does not know that many years before, Sir Daniel had been in love with a married woman. They had decided to defy the conventions and go away together, but on the night of their departure, her son had become dangerously ill. She stayed with her child, and she and Sir Daniel renounced their affections. The woman had been Lionel’s mother. After her death, and the subsequent death of her husband, Sir Daniel adopted Lionel, giving him his name and his love. The young man is so dear to Sir Daniel that he cannot stand to see the boy ruin his life by marrying Mrs. Dane, at least while her reputation is clouded.

Sir Daniel and Lady Eastney, Mrs. Dane’s friend, set about to try to solve the mystery once and for all. Although Risby has retracted his story, Mrs. Bulsom-Porter will not stop spreading the scandal until she is proved wrong beyond a doubt. Mrs. Dane...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)