The story centres on the relationship between Mrs Kitty Warren and her daughter, Vivie. Mrs. Warren, a former prostitute and current brothel owner, is described as "on the whole, a genial and fairly presentable old blackguard of a woman." Vivie, an intelligent and pragmatic young woman who has just graduated from university, has come home to get acquainted with her mother for the first time in her life. The play focuses on how their relationship changes when Vivie learns what her mother does for a living. It explains why Mrs. Warren became a prostitute, condemns the hypocrisies relating to prostitution, and criticises the limited employment opportunities available for women in Victorian Britain.