Setting: The action takes place during one day in Newport, Rhode Island, about 1900.
Rich and dashing British Naval Captain Jack Absolute has fallen in love with American heiress Lydia Larkspur. But Lydia is in love with a romantic fantasy: she wants to elope with some penniless artist and live in "charming poverty." Jack masquerades as a poor English composer named Waverley and wins her heart; Lydia's aunt and guardian, the famously verbose Mrs. Malaprop, will not hear of it. She and Jack's father, both unaware that "Waverley" is Jack, decide that Lydia should marry the real Jack. Jack — now his own rival — has a big problem: how to reveal his true identity to Lydia without losing her. He ties himself into knots to indulge her rebellious fantasies, but eventually Lydia learns the truth and rejects him.
Jack's friend Nicholas Astor loves Lydia's cousin Julia, but his gloomy fear of being loved only for his vast fortune drives him to put her love to such ridiculous tests that she finally breaks off their engagement.
Baron von Hakenbock, a bellicose Prussian fortune hunter, has been carrying on a secret correspondence with "Celia," whom he believes to be Lydia but who is really Mrs. Malaprop. He and one of Lydia's rejected suitors, Jasper Vanderbilt, prepare to fight simultaneous duels: Jasper with his rival, the non-existent Waverley, and the Baron with Jack. Jasper is the bumpkin son of the Kentucky branch of the wealthy Vanderbilts; he also does not know that "Waverley" is his friend Jack. It all comes to a head on the dueling field. True love averts the duels, clears up the misunderstandings, and unites the proper pairs.
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