Well-born, Oxford-educated orphan Cecilia Ashworth raises a few eyebrows in 1890s England by living alone (with adopted child Lallie and servant Emily) and dabbling in social causes (birth control, women's votes), but her secret identity is far more shocking: she's really ""Cecily Andrews,"" author of outrageous novels about liberated women. Yes, that's an ancient plot gimmick; and here it's given a mostly plodding, humorless treatment--as Cecilia moves to the country (where her conservative neighbors snub her), happily sees Emily paired off with publisher Charles (despite their class differences), and chooses among assorted suitors. There's low-born journalist Joseph, who squires Cecilia and activist chum Lady Arabella on trips to the squalid homes of millworkers; there's dashing Sir Edward, who's younger than Cecilia is. But above all there's neighbor Lord Laurence de Ford, rakish but wise, ""the most eligible man in Dorset."" And after turning down proposals from the runners-up, Cecilia stirs Lord de Ford's flames--but then she starts murmuring and whispering and behaving strangely (""It's no use. It can never be""), all of which leads, ever so slowly, up to the revelation that Lallie is Cecilia's own babe, child of a liaison with a cad who promised marriage. Pallid romance and flutter--despite some sketchy historical stick-ons (a speech by Mrs. Pankhurst, a visit from the Prince of Wales) and much anachronistic jabber about sexual double-standards.