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A sensitive young woman marries a bitter, despotic scholar 30 years her senior, who lives just long enough to blight her spirit. She inherits his fortune, only to learn she will forfeit it if she marries her husband's young cousin. When Dorthea tries to find happiness without Ladislaw, the intricate plots, subplots and character portraits lead to a satisfying conclusion in this masterpiece of 19th-century morals and social issues.