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In turn-of-the-century France, elderly bachelor Sylvestre Bonnard, an archaeology professor and bibliophile, has his romantic dreams reawakened when Coccoz, a down-and-out door-to-door bookseller reminds him of a rare book, The Golden Legend , for which he had been searching for years. Inspired by his memories, Sylvestre leaves Paris and returns to the country house of his long-dead sweetheart, whose family once owned The Golden Legend . Although he fails to turn up the book, he does find his sweetheart's orphaned daughter, Jeanne Alexandre, a sensitive fifteen year old, whose greedy guardian, lawyer Mouche, forces her to attend a boarding school run by the cold-hearted Mademoiselle Prefere. Touched by the bright girl, Sylvestre visits her at the school, where his credentials as a French Academy member impress the spinster Prefere and soften her behavior toward Jeanne. Eager for freedom, Jeanne lies to Prefere that Sylvestre desires her and has invited them both for a weekend in Paris. After several blissful, romantic outings in Paris, Perfere all but proposes to a shocked, confused Sylvestre. Ashamed, Jeanne confesses her fibs to Prefere and Mouche, who punish her by making her a prisoner in the boarding school. Sylvestre, longing for Jeanne's company, steals her away, but is confronted by Mouche, who offers to "sell" adoption rights for a large sum. To raise the necessary money, Sylvestre decides to sell his rare book collection. In the middle of the auction, however, Coccoz returns with The Golden Legend and reveals that earlier Mouche had stolen and unwittingly sold it to him. After striking a deal with Mouche, Sylvestre and Jeanne are legally reunited.