The Dwelling Place is a story of a destitute young girl's struggle to take care of her younger siblings after her parents die of cholera. Cissie Brodie lives in Country Durham, England in the 1830's. She is a young girl of great strength and determination. When her parents die from cholera, she is determined that her younger siblings will not be taken to the work house. When the family are evicted from their farm cottage, Cissie remembers seeing a large cave in the hills which they could use as a home. The children gather all they can carry from their old home and make their way to the cave where they begin a new life in 'the dwelling'.
Matthew Turnbull is the local carpenter and helps Cissie with building a wall and roof so that the family will be able to stay there for the winter. Cissie sets about finding work for the two older boys, Jimmy who is 13 and William who is 11. The only choice is down the pit - a place their father had told them never to work. This didn't work out, as the boys were regularly physically abused. So Matthew took on Jimmy as his apprentice for 2 shillings a week, plus food and board.
Matthew then needed to find a job for William. Everyone in the little town expected Matthew to marry Rose, who was the local miller's daughter. Matthew wasn't so keen but realized that in order to help Cissie and her family survive, he needed to pledge himself to Rose, so that her father would agree to take William on as an apprentice at his flour mill. Another sibling, Mary got a job as a maid and Bella got a job in the laundry on one of the grand estates. So, life had taken a turn for the better and they were managing. Cissie now only had little Joe at home to look after and feed.
Lord Fischel lives in the manor house with his son, Clive and daughter, Isabelle. Clive and Isabelle have a very strange relationship, more like lovers than brother and sister. Little Joe sneaks into the Manor grounds and poaches a rabbit, but he is caught by Isabelle and Clive. Cissie comes to the rescue after she hears Joe screaming. She takes him away and they go to the dairy to buy milk. On their way home, they come across Isabelle and Clive on horseback and both parties refuse to give way on the path. A fight ensues, the milk is spilt and Cissie finds herself on her back on the ground. Clive, with Isabelle's encouragement, rapes Cissie while Isabelle watches with glee.
Joe runs off to get help and the first person he see is Lord Fischel. Lord Fischel witnesses the scene and is absolutely appalled at his offspring's behavior. He sends Clive off to sea for three years and grounds Isabelle. It takes a while for Matthew to find out what happened and he is very upset. He declares his love for Cissie and says he has no choice but to marry Rose, or they will all starve.
Eight or so months later, Lord Fischel and Isabelle pass Cissie in their carriage and Lord Fischel sees that she is pregnant. He sends his butler, Cunningham to find out when the baby is due. On Cunningham's second visit to see Cissie, she goes into labor. This happens to coincide with Matthew and Rose's wedding day. Cissie gives birth to a boy and he is called Richard. During the next few months, Lord Fischel tries to persuade Cissie to let him bring up Richard, but Cissie steadfastly refuses.
Bella is then accused of stealing from her place of work and the punishment will be prison. Cissie doesn't know what to do, When Lord Fischel hears of this, he sends Cunningham to tell her that when Bella goes to prison, he will then sue for custody of the child, so she will lose her sister and her son. if she agrees to let him have Richard, he will ensure that her sister isn't prosecuted and he will give her five guineas a week. She has no choice but to agree.
When Matthew hears she has 'sold' her baby, he is furious, but he doesn't know the full truth behind it. He again declares his undying love for Cissie and appears to becoming rather obsessed with her. Joe is now old enough to begin work, so Matthew takes him on as well as his two older brothers.
The wayward Clive reappears on the scene after three years at sea and is shocked to find his three year old son in the nursery playing with his father. Clive goes out in search of Cissie. He follows her and sees that she has crawled through a hole in the Manor House wall so she can watch her son. She is frightened when she sees him, but all he wants to do is apologize for raping her. Clive says, that in the three years away from home, he has changed a lot. Cissie explains how she had to give up her baby to save Bella. Clive is furious with his father and is determined that Cissie should have her son back.
Clive buys a house for Cissie and says he will settle a monthly sum on her and she can live in the house with Richard. When Lord Fischel and Isabelle realize they are going to lose the little boy they have grown to love, they try and whisk him away. Clive steps in and take Richard to the dwelling and leaves him there will Cissie. While Clive is out hunting the following day, he spots Isabelle riding towards the dwelling. Isabelle threatens Cissie with a gun and on seeing this, Clive takes a shot at Isabelle. The shot misses, but Isabelle falls off her horse and hits her head on a rock and dies immediately.
Clive is in a state of total shock and is happy when Matthew rides up and takes control. They take Isabelle's body far away from the dwelling and stage a riding accident, so that neither Cissie nor Clive will be implicated in her death. Clive still insists that Cissie move into the house that he has bought for her and tells her he is going back to sea, but a carriage will fetch her and Richard the following morning to take her to her new home. However, Richard is not happy with Cissie and says he hates her.
The following day, thinking that Clive had already gone off to sea, Cissie takes Richard back to his grandfather. Richard is delighted to be home. Cissie then gives Clive back the deeds to the house he had bought her and the money which he had given her and then goes back to the dwelling. Clive is about to leave in his carriage, when he decides he has to see Cissie again. He rides after her and asks her if she loves Matthew. She says she does love him but not in a romantic way. Clive then asks if she loves him in a romantic way, and Cissie replies that she thinks she does. They kiss. Clive insists she moves into the house he has bought for her and says he will be back in a year to make a life with her and Richard.
Best part of story, including ending:
The plot of a little contrived.
Best scene in story:
The best scene in the book was the birth of Cissie's son, Richard.
Opinion about the main character:
Cissie is a character of great strength who is only concerned with making the lives of those people around her happy.