Lord Oswald Nelvil is going to spend the winter in Italy and at the end of 1794 he leaves Edinburgh. Handsome, with a noble appearance, he is endowed with a great mind and in his twenty-five years owns a solid income. But despite the brilliant position in society, Lord Nelvil is burdened with life. He is constantly tormented by the thought that his father died, and at that time he was far from his home and did not receive a parental blessing. The condition of Nelvil is “the more painful that the vivacity of youth” combines in it with “the habit of reflections inherent in another age.”
On the way to Rome, Oswald Nelvil stops in Ancona, where he witnesses the fire and panic that engulfed the inhabitants of the city. Nelvil rushes to save people and his heroism deserves everyone’s admiration. Embarrassed, he leaves the city under cover of night.
Prior to the Italian capital, the lord is in a state of apathy. Arriving in Rome, he witnesses the triumph of Corinne – a brilliant poetess and charming woman. Improvisation Corinne on the Capitol captures Nelvil, and he “so vividly expresses his enthusiasm, which is superior to the Italians themselves.”
Corinne also notices how admired she is by the impassive Englishman standing in the crowd, and soon Nelvil gets an invitation to the poet’s house. Oswald discovers in the charming Italian abyss of “a completely new charm for him,” “love of the arts and knowledge of light, the subtlety of understanding and the depth of feelings.” He is so captivated by Corinne that he forgets his judgments about the fact that a woman should be kept in the shade.
Gradually, the meetings between Corinne and Nelvil become frequent, they wander together along Rome, admiring its majestic ruins. Corinne secretly hopes that she will be able to win Oswald’s heart, but knowing his restraint and the severity of his rules, he does not dare to openly tell him his position.
Feeling the growing power of the charm of the beautiful Italian, Nelvil begins to be tormented by doubts. He feels that his father would not approve of marriage with Corinne, especially since before his death he expressed the wish that his son marry the daughter of his friend, Lucile Edgermond, who was then only twelve years old. Oswald does not want to violate the will of the deceased. In addition, he does not know the real name of Corinne, nor her past, he only knows that she is rich and leads an independent way of life.
Nelvil decides to leave Rome. But, after parting goodbye to inspect the Colosseum in the moonlight, he meets Corinne among the ruins and realizes that he is unable to part with it.
Oswald’s love for Corinne is growing every day, he is jealous of her many admirers of her talent, but being unsure of his feelings, he does not dare ask Corinne to tell him the secret of her origin. Nelvil painfully perceives the success of Corinne in society, with the arrogance of an Englishman she reproaches her for the fact that Italian women are too fond of entertainment. With the inherent intelligence and tact Corinna stands up for the protection of her beloved country and her people.
In Rome comes Mr. Edgermond, a relative of Lucille, and asks Nelvil to introduce his famous Corinne. The fine Italian at first refuses to accept it, than Nelvilia surprises, but then changes her decision and conquers compatriot Oswald with live conversation and deep knowledge of both Italian and English literature. When the conversation is about Shakespeare, Corinne, urged by Mr. Edgermond, agrees to play Juliet in English in the tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”.
Corinne’s game shocks Oswald, he wants to swear an eternal love for the girl, but she asks him not to hurry, because he understands that he will do it under the influence of a momentary impression. Loving Oswald, Corinne does not dare tell his story to him, because he is afraid that he will immediately leave her.
Offended by the restraint of Corinne, Nelvil is about to depart for Naples. Corinne suggests that he accompany him, hoping that such a serious proof of her love will reassure him.
Friends discourage Corinne from such a step, they remind that she will ruin her reputation, but she loves Oswald too much and is ready to do anything to avoid being separated from him.
In Naples, Nelvil tells Corinne about himself. A loving father prepared his son for a military career, however, before entering the service, young Nelvil travels to France, where he meets a charming young widow. The widow turns Nelvil into his “obedient slave,” he is ready to marry a Frenchwoman...against the will of his father, and only the difficulties arising from the turmoil that prevails in France prevent him from doing this deed. Nellwil returns to England and learns that his father died. Since then, the young lord is inconsolable.
The enamored Oswald gives Corinne the ring he inherited from his father. Worried, she agrees to accept it, but promises to return as soon as Oswald asks him for it back. Then Corinna hands him the manuscript, which sets out its history.
It turns out that Corinne is the daughter of Lord Edgermond and the Italian, the first wife of the lord. Corinne’s mother died when the girl was ten years old. Up to fifteen years, Corinne was raised in Italy, and then lived with her father in England, in the county of Northumberland. By this time, Lord Edgermond marries a dry and stiff Englishwoman, completely subjugating him.
Talents Corinne, according to her stepmother, no one needs. Cold and “withering the soul,” the English province depresses the girl, who grew up under the hot sun in an atmosphere of veneration of fine arts. The only joy for her is little sister Lucille, whom she gives lessons in Italian and drawing.
The father wants to marry Corinne to the son of his friend, Lord Nelvil, that is, for Oswald. But the father of Oswald who came to meet his future daughter-in-law finds her “too smart” and tells the friend that his son is still young for such a marriage.
Suddenly Korinna’s father dies, and now the girl has nothing to do with the house. Having renounced her name, she leaves England. The stepmother then declares her dead.
Corinne settles in Rome, is engaged in literature and arts. Having preferred the two madly in love with her people, she, however, is convinced that she had no real feelings for anyone except Oswald. And yet she does not want to unite with him, marveling that he will someday regret the lovely Lucy, destined by his father to be his wife. Corinne loves Oswald, and love does not recognize obligations.
Oswald decides to go to England and find out why his father was against his marriage with Corinne. Hardly having stepped on the native ground, the young man has felt “the propensities absorbed with milk of mother and a habit”. Oswald gets acquainted with the stepmother of Corinne. He is surprised to see that the girl Lucille has turned into a real beauty, brought up as a true Englishwoman. And when he compares the two sisters, his conclusions are not in favor of the eldest.
Oswald learns that his father considered Corinne too active for the woman and was afraid that the young Italian would take her son away from England, whose way of life she would not be able to reconcile. Thus, Oswald would have lost the honor of serving his homeland. Fulfilling the will of his father, Oswald refuses to marry Corinne.
Meanwhile Corinne, not having news from Oswald, arrives in England and sees Oswald everywhere appearing with Lucille. Corinne realizes that Nelvil fell in love with her sister. She returns the ring to him, attaching a note to him with the words: “You are free.” Offended by such a message, Nelvil asks for Lucile’s hands.
Learning about the upcoming marriage of Oswald, Corinne is seriously ill and, barely recovering, leaves for Italy. There she settles in the environs of Florence. But it does not have a past interest in life, it slowly fades away.
Accidentally, Oswald learns that Corinne visited England, saw everything, and, not wanting to bother him, left, taking with her all her grief. Oswald in despair, he leaves to fight in the New World.
A few years later, fanned by glory, he returns home, where his wife and young daughter are waiting for him. Soon Lady Edgermond, Lucy’s mother, dies. Under the pretext of a health amendment, Oswald decides to make a trip to Italy. Lucille and his daughter accompany him.
Arriving in Florence, Oswald seeks to see Corinne, but she refuses to meet him. Severely ill, she appears for the last time with improvisation – she bids farewell to Lord Nelvil and to her lovely Italy. After the performance on stage, Corinne becomes ill and she dies.
Lord Nelvil falls into deep despair, “for the first time even feared for his reason and life.” Then the “sense of duty” brings him back to the family, he is known as an impeccable family man and a highly moral person. “But did he forgive himself for his previous misdemeanors?” Was he satisfied with an ordinary life after all he had lost? This author is unknown, and therefore he does not want to blame or justify it.