- Dorothea is basically an angel. Blinded by her ideals, she marries Casaubon, a man old enough to be her father. They honeymoon in Italy. Dorothea, unhappy, is crying, when she is espied by Ladislaw, who more or less instantly falls in love with her. Dorothea remains very unhappy in her very unhappy marriage.
- Rosamund is the prettiest girl in town and has the worst sort of princess manners. She loves a doctor. They marry. They have no money. There is ensuing anger, sadness, disillusionment, and tears.
- Mary and Fred have been friends since they were children, and they love each other. Eventually they get married.
- Interspersed throughout are various lengthy interludes spent with minor characters and endless prosing.
- Eventually Dorothea and Ladislaw marry.