Set in 1900 in the seaside town of Folkestone in southeast England, the plot concerns Arthur Kipps, an illegitimate draper’s apprentice who had been raised by an aunt and uncle. When he inherits a fortune with a yearly income, his life is upended. He forsakes his childhood sweetheart, Ann Pornick, when he falls for Helen Walsingham, an educated young woman from a pretentious, formerly upper-middle-class family. Helen’s lawyer brother takes change of investing Artie’s money.
Artie comes to realize that it is Ann he truly loves, and he breaks his engagement to Helen. Artie and Ann marry. News comes that Helen’s brother has disappeared after having lost Artie’s fortune through bad investments.
Artie and Ann open a small bookshop in the house they had bought before the fortune was lost. They are getting by financially, if hardly prospering, primarily by lending penny-dreadfuls at tuppence a day. Most important, they are happy. Suddenly, Harry Chitterlow, an eccentric actor-playwright, shows up with good news. It was Chitterlow who, through a coincidence, had alerted Artie to his inheritance. Artie had then invested in a play that Chitterlow had written, which he was having trouble getting produced. The play has now been produced with great success. Thanks to his investment in the play, Artie will again be prosperous. We trust he will also be wiser, thanks to Ann’s love and common sense, and his own past experiences that have taught him to be content with who he is.