Squire Hardcastle, from somewhere up north, is discovered snoozing in his favourite armchair by the fireside,
He is dreaming, no doubt, of marrying off his charming but independent-minded daughter, Kate, to the son of his old friend, Sir Charles Marlow. Such a liaison would serve the double purpose of finding Kate a wealthy husband whilst, at the same time, moving the family a notch or two up the social ladder.
Enter Mrs Hardcastle, who is in love with “London and the fashions though I was never there myself.” She does, however, keep abreast of “all the tete-a-tetes from the ‘scandalous magazines” She is wearing an outrageous wig, which we learn she has fashioned herself “from a sketch in the “Ladies Memorandum Book for last year.”
She berates Mr Hardcastle about the fact that they live in “this rambling old mansion that looks for all the world like an inn, but that we never see company… and all our entertainment is your old stories about Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough”.
Mrs Hardcastle has been married before and had a son by her first husband, Mr Lumpkin. Thanks to her somewhat imperfect parenting skills, Tony Lumpkin is a wild, roaring twenty-something who, according to his mother, was always too sickly to go to school.
Mr Hardcastle does not consider Tony to be a valuable addition to the family, but Mrs Hardcastle, who is keeping a considerable fortune in jewels in trust for her niece, Constance, is very keen to engineer a marriage between Tony and Constance so that the fortune stays in the family.
To the despair of both of his parents, Tony’s sole interests in life are drinking with the yokels in the local ale-house and lusting after the voluptuous “Bet Bouncer of these parts.”
The plot is set to thicken.