The novel opens with young Molly Gibson, who has been raised by her widowed father, Dr. Gibson. During a visit to the local aristocratic 'great house' of Lord and Lady Cumnor, Molly loses her way in the estate and falls asleep under a tree. Lady Cuxhaven and Mrs. Kirkpatrick find Molly in her slumbering state and Molly is put to bed in Mrs. Kirkpatrick's room. There are allusions to the latter as Miss Clare, her maiden name. Clare appears to be a kind woman and assures Molly that she will wake her up when it is time for the entourage to leave. However, she forgets to do so and Molly is stranded in the mansion. She is distressed at the thought of spending the night at the mansion. To her relief, her father arrives to collect her. Seven years later, Molly is described as an attractive and rather unworldly young woman, which arouses the interest of one of her father's apprentices, Mr. Coxe. Mr Gibson discovers the young man's secret affection and sends Molly to stay with the Hamleys of Hamley Hall, a gentry family that purportedly dates from the Heptarchy but whose circumstances are now reduced. Molly forms a close attachment with Mrs. Hamley, who embraces her almost as a daughter. Molly also befriends the younger son, Roger. Molly is aware that, as the daughter of a professional man, she would not be considered a suitable match for the sons of Squire Hamley.
Wives and Daughters
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