Mr. Watson is a widowed clergyman with two sons and four daughters. The youngest daughter, Emma, has been brought up by a wealthy aunt and is consequently better educated and more refined than her sisters. But when her aunt contracts a foolish second marriage, Emma is obliged to return to her father's house. Living near the Watsons are the Osbornes, a great titled family. Emma attracts some notice from the boorish and awkward young Lord Osborne, while one of her sisters pursues Lord Osborne's arrogant, social-climbing friend, Tom Musgrave. Emma is chagrined by the crude and reckless husband-hunting of two of her sisters, but gets involved in it whether she likes it or not.