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n 1850s Barsetshire kindly doctor Thorne has brought up his niece Mary, following her father's mysterious death twenty years earlier. Handsome Frank Gresham is in love with her but his snobbish mother Arabella and his aunt, the Countess de Courcy, are aristocrats who look down on her, causing the doctor to reveal to her her lowly origins. Frank's sister Augusta is marrying a boorish older man for money, not love, and Arabella, unlike her more reasonable husband, wants a similar match for Frank with eccentric heiress Miss Dunstable. For all their apparent wealth the Greshams are in debt to Dr Thorne's most illustrious patient, the drunken, dissolute parvenu, Sir Roger Scatcherd, who makes an enigmatic statement to Thorne, regarding his beneficiary and allowing the doctor to identify them.

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