A widower merchant lives in a mansion with his six children, three sons and three daughters. All his daughters are very beautiful, but the youngest, Beauty, is the most lovely, as well as kind, well-read, and pure of heart; while the two elder sisters, in contrast, are wicked, selfish, vain, and spoiled. They secretly taunt Beauty and treat her more like a servant than a sister. The merchant eventually loses all of his wealth in a tempest at sea, which sinks most of his merchant fleet. He and his children are consequently forced to live in a small farmhouse and work for their living.