At the close of the nineteenth century, wheelchair-bound Augustus Auerbach’s only interest is his extraordinarily lucrative business: the manufacture and marketing of pornographic photographs. His outlook is forever altered, however, when one of his models pressures him to attend a séance. It is there that Augustus meets the medium Verena Swann, a beautiful widow who gives voice to the long-dead spirit of his mother.
At the time of her first encounter with Augustus, Verena is close to nervous collapse, overwhelmed by the demands of her clients who are half-mad with yearning for their deceased loved ones. Her spiritual powers have begun to fail her, and now, forced to fake her public trances, she wonders if her ability to converse with the spirits was ever more than self-delusion.
Though initially reluctant, Augustus embarks on a series of private sittings with Verena, finding himself increasingly drawn to her as much for personal reasons as for the proof of immortality she offers him. Verena, meanwhile, is torn between three men: Augustus, the millionaire pornographer; Captain Theodore Swann, Verena’s adventurer husband, killed on an expedition to the North Pole; and Leopold Swann, Verena’s brother-in-law and business partner who has decided that their next and greatest conquest will be Augustus himself.