Catherine Sloper is a shy and backwards young woman who lives with her father, Dr. Austin Sloper, in 1849 New York. By all accounts Catherine's mother was a beautiful and graceful creature with the charm of queens. Catherine never knew her mother since she died while in childbirth, but her father often reminds her of all the things her mother was and that she is not. Catherine inherited a great deal of money after her mother passed and will inherit twice as much more at the passing of her father. So, when a poor but handsome and well-bred man, Morris Townsend, begins to court Catherine, her father becomes suspicious that he must be after her money. After all, Catherine is plain and boring. What could she possibly offer to this young man - other than her money?