The novel consists largely of a series of letters written by its heroine, Emily Barlow, to her friend, Sylvia Carey. When Emily sails from England for India in June 1814 her ship is attacked by Moorish pirates and she is taken to the harem of Ali, dey of Algiers. Ali rapes her and subjects her to his will, awakening her sexual passions. Emily's debasement continues when Ali insists on anal sex, arousing the horror of her correspondent Sylvia, who expresses her indignation at Ali's behaviour, in a letter that the latter intercepts. Annoyed at her attitude, Ali arranges for Sylvia to be abducted and brought to the slave market of Algiers. After an elaborate charade in which Ali pretends to be a sympathetic Frenchman, bidding to save her from sexual slavery, and engaging her in a fake marriage, he deflowers her and awakens her sexuality, as he had done with Emily. Revealing his true identity Ali enjoys both girls together. This sexual idyll is eventually terminated when a new addition to the harem objects to anal rape and cuts off the Dey's penis with a knife, and then commits suicide. Seemingly unfazed by this, Ali has 'his lost members preserved in spirits of wine in glass vases' which he presents to Emily and Sylvia, sending them back to England with these tokens of his affection.
The novel also incorporates interpolated stories concerning the erotic misadventures of three other girls abducted into the harem and enlarges on the fate of Emily's maid Eliza who, presented by Ali to Muzra, bey of Tunis, is bound, flogged and raped in turn.
The book was one of those condemned as obscene by Lord Chief Justice Campbell when William Dugdale was prosecuted in 1857.
CAUTION: non-consensual female chastisement, and rape.