Clarissa Schuhmeister is sent away for a convent education - in accordance with the tradition of the time - by her widowed father. While observing his daughter's progress from afar he is successfully promoted to the rank of general - but is then suspended from duty when his more thoughtful attitude to military matters jars with the tub-thumping jingoism of his time. General Schuhmeister, who has never been able to give expression to his inmost feelings, becomes increasingly withdrawn - while Clarissa, who has learnt discipline and obedience, takes on a job as assistant to the neurologist Dr. Silberstein. Very soon she becomes indispensable to him, and Silberstein involves her increasingly in his research work. At a congress in Lucerne Clarissa meets the French teacher Léonard, and the two of them fall passionately in love. When, after long weeks hiking together in the Alps, they hear that war has broken out, Clarissa grows desperate: for the first time in her life she has experienced love and passion and given free rein to her feelings, and now Léonard has to return to his country. Clarissa becomes a nurse in a field hospital - and notices there that she is pregnant. To make her child legitimate she accepts a proposal of marriage from sham patient Gottfried Brancoric, who needs her as an excuse to avoid military service. During the years that follow she gets by on her own, with the occasional visit from Gottfried who is earning a living from black marketeering. One day she discovers that her father has been keeping letters from Léonard from her - she thought the Frenchman had forgotten her! For the first time in her life, Clarissa resists her father and makes up her own mind: together with her son, she sets off to rejoin the great love of her life.