Following her grandfather's death, Clarissa, the youngest daughter of the wealthy but untitled Harlowe family, inherits his estates, making her the Harlowe heiress. Her parents now pressure her to marry local land-owner Roger Solmes, a man she despises. His rival is the young, handsome aristocrat Lovelace. He is intrigued by Clarissa's beauty and virtue.
Clarissa talkes refuge in the elegant house of the sly Mrs Sinclair, who makes Clarissa feel very ill at ease.