The background of the play is New York in the 1850s and the basic story tells of a shy and plain young girl, Catherine Sloper, who falls desperately in love with a delightful young fortune hunter. Catherine's lack of worldliness prevents her from realizing that the young man proposing to her is not entirely drawn to her by her charm. Catherine's father, a successful doctor, sees through the fortune hunter and forbids the marriage, but his daughter proposes an elopement that fails to materialize because the young man knows most of her expected fortune will go elsewhere if he marries her. Catherine retires into a little world of her own. But the fortune hunter turns up once more and again proposes to her. For a moment, Catherine leads him to believe that she will accept him, but when he calls by appointment, she locks the door, blows out all the lights and allows him to realize that she will not be fooled for the second time.
Suggested by Henry James' novel Washington Square, this play, produced twice on Broadway, has proved an enormous success. "THE HEIRESS has a wealth of treasures to bestow; it would be foolish to abstain from one's share in them." —NY Daily News.