Dorothea Brooke — An intelligent and wealthy young woman who aspires to do great work. Spurning signs of wealth in the form of jewels or fancy clothes, she embarks upon projects such as redesigning cottages for the tenants of her miserly and embarrassingly neglectful uncle. She can seldom get anyone to take her ideas seriously and she decides to marry the Reverend Edward Casaubon, many decades her senior, to help him with the writing of his great research project, The Key to All Mythologies.
The marriage is quickly revealed to be a mistake, as Casaubon does not take her seriously and resents her youth, enthusiasm, and energy. Her requests to assist him merely serve to make it more difficult for him to conceal that his research is years out of date and his work is very lackluster. His research on pagan parallels with Christian theology serves only to entice those who know nothing about the field; those who are familiar with the area of research know that his work is derivative and has been explored thoroughly by earlier researchers.
When her husband shunts her aside during their honeymoon, she finds a kindred spirit in the Reverend's first cousin once removed, Will Ladislaw, and the two become friends. After Casaubon's death, when their mutual attraction might blossom, it is almost renounced because of various complications, including the provision in Casaubon's will that, if Dorothea were to marry Ladislaw, she would be disinherited. Such a provision leads people to wonder if Dorothea and Ladislaw had been engaging in anything improper during Dorothea's marriage, which is a great insult on the part of Casaubon. Eventually, however, they do marry and move to London, but Eliot denies her a straightforwardly happy ending since Dorothea, like Lydgate, fails to reach her potential and sacrifices her dreams to support her husband in his political career.
"Middlemarch" by George Eliot