A majestic Victorian tale about three of passion's slaves and the painful courtesies lovers show to one another when the affair is jangling out of tune. Wealthy lawyer Esmond, discarded illegitimate son of a peer, has pinched his way to the top of his profession, while his handsome, debt-ridden cavalry officer brother Clinton has inherited the title and the ancestral home. Beautiful actress Theresa, a widow, a fierce free spirit with a sinewy wit, is the woman both will love. Theresa chooses to be Esmond's mistress and accepts his decent measured attentions, but cannot bring herself to accept his offer of marriage. Enter Clinton--and both are tumbled by a ""groundswell of emotion."" When the two become lovers, Esmond, in a rage, determines to ruin Clinton as Clinton and Theresa rush into a marriage ceremony which is technically illegal (Clinton knows this; Theresa does not). Meanwhile Esmond and circumstances are preparing a tumbril for Clinton--he will be absolutely penniless unless he marries adoring heiress Sophie. Clinton proposes to Sophie, for how could he subject Theresa to poverty? A court case, contesting the validity of the marriage, takes place--and hollow tragedy awaits. Jeal has caught with irony the front-parlor ambience of a time when the reining and refining of emotions was an all-consuming pastime; and the most exciting action here takes place behind the three furrowed brows. So intense is the cerebration in fact that the pace often seems over-stately. Poor-man's Henry James, perhaps, but still it's all rather grand--and touching.