Jude Fawley is a rural stone mason with intellectual aspirations. Manipulated by the beautiful Arabella Donn, he is distracted from his studies and lured into an affectionate but loveless marriage. When Arabella leaves him for a new life in Australia, Jude moves to Christchurch in the hopes of bettering himself through studies. However he becomes frustrated by poverty and the indifference of the academic institutions at the University. His only source of joy seems to lie in his unconventional relationship with his cousin, Sue Bridehead. But life as social outcasts proves undermining, and when tragedy occurs, Sue has no resilience and Jude is left in despair.