By the suicide of the spendthrift son of Bernard Amedroz, the entail of Belton Castle passed to Will Belton, a distant cousin and a prosperous farmer in Norfolk. On his first visit to his new estate he fell in love with Clara Amedroz and impulsively proposed to her. She refused him as she was in love with Captain Aylmer, an MP distantly related to her wealthy aunt Mrs. Winterfield. Since her mother's death Clara had spent part of each year with her aunt, and it was generally supposed that she was her heir. However, when Mrs. Winterfield died, it was discovered that she had left her fortune to Captain Aylmer, after extracting from him a promise to marry Clara. His courtship was tepid, and when Clara visited Aylmer Park as his fiance, where she was severely snubbed by Lady Aylmer with no remonstrance from the Captain, she broke the engagement. Will Belton had never given up hope of winning Clara, and after he had taken over the management of the estate they were married.A secondary plot deals with the story of Clara's friends the Askertons, who lived in a cottage on the estate.
"In no other novel is the essence of Trollope so concentrated. Using a cast of four principal and as few subsidiary characters, he fills three volumes with the matrimonial dilemma of Clara Amedroz, who has to choose between the uncouth farmer Will Belton -to whom has passed her thriftless father's estate--and the polished, selfseeking Captain Aylmer.... The theme is commonplace; the incidents unsensational; the treatment unassuming and serene.... To a reader in sympathy with the Trollopian method and mentality, the book is a delight for its smoothness, its subtlety and its faultless adjustment of character and circumstance." - Sadleir