The novel concerns Oscar and Amanda Fitzalan, the children of Malvina Dunreath and Fitzalan, and the disinherited heirs of Dunreath Abbey in Scotland. Deprived of their rightful inheritance and occupying an obscure place in society, the novel traces their return to wealth and nobility.
The novel opens in the picturesque setting of a small Welsh village, the place of Amandas birth and her sweet asylum (p1) from the dangerous world. It is here, in the grounds of Tudor Hall, that Amanda meets Lord Mortimer. Romance blossoms and Amandas beauty and piety overcome her disadvantages of obscure origins and want of fortune. Events are destined to divide the two lovers however, and Amandas father tears her from the object of her affection. Fitzalan sees the relationship as potentially harmful to the name of Lord Mortimer, and reliant on the patronage of Lord Mortimers father, the Earl of Cherbury, he acts to halt what could anger the Earl.
Settled in Ireland, the paths of Amanda and Lord Mortimer are destined to cross again, the residence of Amanda and Fitzalan being the property of the late Countess of Cherbury. It is in Ireland that Amanda's brother Oscar is introduced for the first time and he tells his melancholy tale of lost love. His beloved Adela has been duped into a marriage with the manipulative and libertine Colonel Belgrave who leads to to believe that Oscar does not love her.
Amandas estranged cousin, Lady Euphrasia, and her mother, the Marchioness of Rosline, visit the area, bringing with them the news of Lord Mortimers presence in the province. Rumours of an attachment between Euphrasia and Mortimer are rife and Amanda suffers the agonies of disappointed love while waiting to see him again. Eventually the night arrives when they might behold each other once more, but so injured were the feelings of Lord Mortimers on Amandas desertion from Wales, that the only attention she receives is from Sir Charles Bingley and her hopes are disappointed. Just as Amanda and Mortimer look set to resolve their differences however, events again conspire against them, and Amanda is detained from meeting him. Exasperated by her inattention, he resolves to relinquish her.
Winter arrives and the area becomes deserted. It is agreed that Amanda should visit London with family friend Lady Greystock, who unbeknown to Amanda, has been enlisted by the Marchioness and Euphrasia to spy on her. In London, both Lord Mortimers and Charles Bingleys attachments to Amanda are rekindled. Finally, Amanda and Mortimer acknowledge their true feelings for each other and marriage looks likely until the interference of Colonel Belgrave. Besotted with Amanda, he embarks on a campaign to ruin her reputation in order to her acquire her as a mistress. Spirited away from London in a cloud of suspicion, Amanda is taken, against her will to Colonel Belgraves Devonshire manor and detained. She escapes before coming to any harm and flees to Ireland, only to find her father dying.
Left alone in the world, with Oscar missing after his disappointment in love led him to desert from the army, Amanda repairs to the convent near Castle Carberry. Lord Mortimer, distressed by Amandas way of leaving London, is in Ireland for a break, when the two lovers again happen upon each other. He believes her assurance of her innocence and helps her. With the difficulties in the way of their relationship now removed, their love is revived and wedding plans are made. However within hours of her marriage to Mortimer, Amanda receives a visit from Lord Cherbury, imploring her to leave Mortimer, so that he is free to marry Lady Euphrasia. This would add to the family fortune and save them from the financial ruin that the Earl has inflicted upon them through gambling. Amanda consents, and in a heart broken state, runs away to Scotland.
It is while she is in Scotland that Amanda visits Dunreath Abbey, the ancestral home of her late mother, and in the only truly Gothic moment in the novel, happens across the ghostly figure of Lady Dunreath. Imprisoned in the Abbey by her daughter, the Marchioness of Rosline, she has spent her years repenting her decision to deprive Malvina of her fortune, by forging the will of her late husband, who in his dying moments had forgiven his eldest daughter. She divulges the whole sordid story to Amanda, who sets off to London to settle the affair. Devoid of all assistance, she again falls prey to Colonel Belgrave and ends up penniless on the streets of London, because he has ensured that her reputation has been ruined to the extent she is deserted by all possible sources of assistance. All this while, Oscar is languishing in debtors' prison.
It is at this point that fate intervenes and Amanda is accidentally discovered and rescued by Sir Charles Bingley. Not only does he expose the guilt of Belgrave, who flees to the Continent where he dies in an agony of shame, but he also frees Oscar from prison and helps him to reclaim his rightful fortune. The party travels to Scotland, where the family is in preparation for the forthcoming marriage of Euphrasia to Lord Mortimer. Euphrasia elopes with the foppish character of Freelove before this event can take place however, and Oscar and Amanda then arrive to expose the villains. Adela, now free to marry again, is reunited with Oscar. So too are Amanda and Mortimer. Reinstated to their rightful positions, the novel ends with the marriage of all the good characters and the punishment of the bad.
© 2000 Emma Hodinott and Angela Wright / Sheffield Hallam University