Beset by jealousy over an admirer of his wife's, Lord Lodore has come with his daughter Ethel to the American wilderness; his wife Cornelia, meanwhile, has remained with her controlling mother in England. When he finally brings himself to attempt a return, Lodore is killed en route in a duel. Ethel does return to England, and the rest of the book tells the story of her marriage to the troubled and impoverished Villiers (whom she stands by through a variety of tribulations) and her long journey to a reconciliation with her mother.
Lodore's scope of character and of idea is matched by its narrative range and variety of setting; the novel's highly dramatic story-line moves at different points to Italy, to Illinois, and to Niagara Falls. And in this edition, which includes a wealth of documents from the period, the reader is provided with a sense of the full context out of which Shelley's achievement emerged.