Late 19th century England; Jude, an intelligent but unworldly stonemason, looks to escape rural poverty by gaining a university education. Toward this goal, when his wife Arabella leaves him, he moves to Christminster where he meets and falls recklessly in love with Sue, his beautiful and intelligent cousin. Though the two realize their destinies are intertwined, when he reveals his previous marriage, she is deeply hurt and in a perverse act of retaliation, marries another man. Broke and denied entrance to the university, he returns to his hometown. Some time later, at the funeral for their common aunt, Sue reveals to Jude that she’s desperately unhappy. Soon an illicit romance begins between them until Sue’s husband steps aside finally allowing Jude and Sue to be together openly. The two have children and live together as an unmarried couple. Though they must endure social and financial hardship, the two finally find happiness together, until tragedy strikes.