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In 1925, in London's Hyde Park, Clarissa Phipps takes in the drunken, destitute gentleman Captain Randolph Courtney and asks him to educate her son Richard in the finer things of life. Ten years later, on Richard's 21st birthday, Clarissa reveals to him that he is not her son, but the son of a famous actress and a nobleman. Clarissa sends Richard away, so that he may fulfill his upper class heritage, but Richard seeks the help of Courtney. Together, they find some letters that indicate his mother is Julia Trent, who is now a poor housemanager and is married to an eccentric scientist, Paul Anders. Without revealing his identity, Richard takes a room with the Anderses. Soon Richard meets Julia's stepdaughter, Pauline, a painter, with whom he becomes infatuated. Visiting Clarissa for dinner, Richard encounters his uneducated girl friend, Emily Judson. The couple leave in a taxi, which is then involved in an accident, and the next morning Paul reads the news to Pauline. Pauline hurries to the hospital but finds that Richard's injuries are minor and he has been released. Clarissa clearly prefers Pauline to Emily and although Richard and Emily were to have been engaged, Clarissa encourages his feelings for Pauline. While convalescing, Richard writes a play, Son of Sixpence , written as a vehicle to return Julia to the stage. Meanwhile, Clarissa, long a victim of heart trouble, visits Dr. Phillips, who insists she must retire and move to the country. Later, Richard reveals to Clarissa that he will not ask Pauline to marry him because he has no name of his own. Richard's play is staged, and it is a success on opening night. Afterwards, Emily informs Richard that Clarissa passed out at the close of the play and then tells Pauline that it is she whom Richard loves. On her deathbed, Clarissa reveals that she is Richard's mother and that she concocted the story in order for Richard to become a person of "quality." Courtney sadly leaves, and Pauline comes for Richard.