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In Victorian England, sisters Pamela and Flora Thistlewaite lead a cloistered life, watched over by their repressive father and prim governess. At their "coming out" ball, Flora meets and becomes engaged to Lieutenant Alan Craig Freeland, while independent Pamela catches the eye of roguish Gerald Waring. Spurned by her cold-hearted father, lonely Pamela is easily seduced by Gerald and becomes pregnant by him. After Pamela reveals her condition to Gerald, he tearfully informs her that he is married. Heartbroken, Pamela joins Flora, who is now married and also "expecting," in Italy, and there meets Thomas Lane, a British diplomat. When Flora learns that Alan has been killed in an accident, she collapses from shock, which causes first a miscarriage and then her own death. Later Pamela gives birth and returns to England with her baby Flora, whom she discreetly refers to as her niece. In London, Pamela defies the harsh rules of Victorian society by writing feminist and reform-minded editorials for a women's weekly. She soon becomes a successful journalist and founds her own feminist magazine. However, her fear of scandal prevents her from marrying the devoted Thomas, and Flora grows up unaware of her true parentage. When Flora tells her "aunt" that she is in love with Gerald Waring's son, however, Pamela demands that she end the relationship and then meets secretly with Gerald to discuss the problem. As a result of their clandestine meeting, Gerald's wife names Pamela as a co-respondent in a divorce case. Still protective of Flora and Thomas' reputations, Pamela refuses to reveal her past in court, and thereby ruins her own reputation. Finally, Thomas tells Flora the truth about her mother, and with her daughter's blessing, Pamela weds her beloved Thomas.