The death of Egbert Dormer, a successful but improvident artist, left his two daughters, Lucy and Ayala, with no means of support. Their aunt had married a wealthy City banker, Sir Thomas Tringle, and their uncle Reginald Dosett had a meager income as an Admiralty clerk. Each offered a home to one of the sisters and Ayala, because she was charming and vivacious, was chosen by Lady Tringle. The two unattractive Tringle daughters soon became jealous of Ayala's social success, and the loutish son Tom promptly fell in love with her. Lady Tringle effected an exchange of wards, sending Ayala to the comparative poverty of the Dosett home.
Ayala's romantic nature, fostered by her happy, carefree childhood, adored by her father and admired by all his artistic circle, led her to expect a busband who would be an "Angel of light." Tom Tringle did not fit into that picture, nor did her second suitor, Captain Batsby. When Jonathan Stubbs, red-haired, red-faced, noisy but devoted, came, he did not seem at first to be her "Angel" but his persistence finally won her. Lucy, meantime, living in magnificence in the Tringle household, had engaged herself to a young sculptor and, with a generous dot from her uncle, they were able to. Sir Thomas was not so fortunate in the marriages of his own daughters. The elder, Augusta, with a dowry of 120,000 ensnared the Honorable Septimus Traffic, an MP and son of Lord Boardotrade. Septimus, regardless of the dowry, was too parsimonious to provide a separate establishment for his wife and, despite all the urging of his irate father-in-law, they continued to live with the family. The amount of Augusta's dowry being known, the younger sister, Gertrude, was sought by the impecunious Frank Houston. Sir Thomas angered by this obvious fortune-hunting, declared that Gertrude should have no fortune at all and Frank speedily withdrew. Gertrude was furious at her father's injustice and persuaded Captain Batsby to elope with her to Ostend, hoping that Sir Thomas would relent and support them. Tom's pursuit of Ayala led him into various escapades from which his father finally wearied of rescuing him, and he was shipped off on a long sea-voyage.
"...possibly the most unjustly neglected of all Trollope's novels ... and yet it is one of the most charming of all the long list. It is the lightest and airiest of them all, it has a gaiety and happiness and playfulness that Trollope, gay and happy though he often was, never exceeded.... what vigour of scene and creation, what vitality of action and dialogue it contains." - Walpole