The central character in George Eliot's novel is Dorothea Brooke, an idealistic young woman who foolishly marries a dried-up, peevish elderly scholar, Casaubon. She soon discovers that the "genius" she wished to serve is merely a pedant, and finds herself falling in love with his nephew, Will Ladislaw. Casaubon soon dies, but leaves a will stating that Dorothea loses all his money if she marries Ladislaw. He is too proud to propose to her, and they aren't united until the end. Other principal characters are the ambitious Dr Lydgate, helped in his work by Dorothea but hampered by his shallow, demanding wife Rosamund; Rosamund's wastrel brother Fred Vincy, who is redeemed by his love for land agent's daughter Mary Garth, and finds new self-respect in working for her father. Intertwined with their lives is that of the hypocritical Mr Bulstrode, who ruins Lydgate and is himself brought down by a criminal scandal.