The main character of the novel is the attractive and daydreaming Eustacia Vye who is nineteen years old at the beginning of the plot. She is known as the “Queen of the Night” and her wish is to find a man who will fall madly in love with her and fulfill her quench of wanderlust.
As she lives in the small town of Egdon Heath, there are not many eligible bachelors available in the area. The only man she is even slightly attracted to is an innkeeper with name of Damon Wildeve. Although Damon reciprocates her feelings, he is betrothed to another woman, a simple village maiden called Thomasin Yeobright. Since they are engaged, the laws of society bind Eustacia and she helplessly watches Damon marry Thomasin. On the wedding day, it is discovered that the marriage license has been declared void due to a technical error on part of Damon. Eustacia believes it to mean that Damon loves her more than he loves Thomasin, who has been reduced to a state of shame by the episode.
Mrs. Yeobright, Thomasin’s aunt does not approve of her niece’s fiancé but in order to save Thomasin from further embarrassment, she takes it on herself to ensure that the couple get married by the soonest. Her ally is another townsman, Diggory Venn, who is secretly in love with Thomasin although the only person who is aware of the depth of his feelings is Mrs. Yeobright. Diggory had asked for Thomasin’s hand for marriage a few years ago but she had rejected his offer. Since Diggory believes that Thomasin wants to marry Damon, he makes it his mission to assist Mrs. Yeobright in making sure that Thomasin’s wish comes true.
On the other hand, Damon uses this opportunity to propose to Eustacia instead but although she is attracted to him, her pride does not allow her to accept his hand. Like Mrs. Yeobright, Eustacia considers Damon to be of an inferior status and furthermore, she is insulted by the fact that he had asked Thomasin for marriage before he had asked her. Eustacia shifts her gaze towards a newcomer in the heath, Clym Yeobright, who is Mrs. Yeobright’s son and Thomasin’s cousin. He has recently moved to Egdon from Paris and it is believed that he makes good money as a trader. Since Eustacia wants to travel around the world, she sees Clym as an opportunity to get out of Egdon.
Eustacia is afraid that Clym may become attracted to his cousin, the sensitive Thomasin so she joins Mrs. Yeobright and Diggory in their efforts to make sure that Thomasin marries Damon. Mrs. Yeobright hints to Damon that Thomasin has received another proposal and the plan works. Since Eustacia has rejected him and Thomasin too has other men in her consideration, Damon decides to marry Thomasin lest he is left bachelor amidst all the drama.
The marriage takes place successfully. Damon is satisfied with his choice as marrying Thomasin has let him show Mrs. Yeobright that he is worthy of her and Eustacia that he is not heartbroken at her rejection. Now that Thomasin is off the market, Eustacia believes that she is safe to resume her hunt for Clym’s love. Again, she is successful. Clym falls for her and they get married despite his mother’s objections about Eustacia’s status and character.
Eustacia had married Clym because she wanted to take advantage of his exiting lifestyle. She refuses to take him seriously when he tells her that he desires a simple life in the village after their marriage. Although both his mother and his wife are in disapproval, Clym trains to become a schoolteacher. As a part-time job, he takes up working at the heath, cutting furze. Eustacia and her mother-in-law are disturbed at the sight of Clym doing menial job although he insists that it is actually rather stress relieving to cut furze.
Venn, who is still in love with Thomasin, keeps an eye on Damon to make sure he does not create any trouble for either his wife or Eustacia. Once, Mrs. Yeobright orders a pageboy to deliver money to both Thomasin and Clym. Damon intercepts the money and gambles it away. Venn recovers the money and gives it to Thomasin, who is unaware of the fact that half of the amount has to be given to Clym. After finding out that half of the amount has not reached Clym, Mrs. Yeobright accuses Damon and Eustacia of cheating behind the backs of their respective spouses. In the end, the matter is solved but the relationship between Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright remains rusty, which eventually leads to her separation with Clym.
In another case, Mrs. Yeobright decides to visit her son and daughter-in-law in their house after the big fiasco about the money where she had hurt Clym by falsely accusing Eustacia of infidelity and theft. When she knocks on the door, no one answers although she clearly realizes that Eustacia and Clym are inside, most certainly entertaining a guest. She is heartbroken to be cast aside like this and resolves to return home by walking the entire distance in the scorching heat. The heat proves to be too much for her heart and Mrs. Yeobright never recovers from her ordeal. She dies and before leaving the earth, she lets Clym know that he is responsible for his mother’s death.
Clym is puzzled by the accusation and falls into depression, believing himself to be in some way responsible for the death. A few weeks after Mrs. Yeobright’s death, Clym hears from a fellow neighbor that before her death, Mrs. Yeobright had visited their house, only to be shunned and humiliated by not even being let inside the house although Eustacia was home, entertaining a guest. Clym had been fast asleep on the porch at the time, tired from furze cutting. Clym interrogates his wife who refuses to tell him the identity of the visitor. The couple fights and Clym finally learns about Eustacia’s disdain about their current lifestyle. She leaves him, going back to her grandfather’s place.
After separating from her husband, Eustacia finds solace in Damon’s company. Damon promises to assist her in escaping Edgar by providing her with transport and money but in reality, he plans on leaving town as well, with her. Eustacia is aware of Damon’s real motives, realizing that if she takes his help, she will have to remain his mistress for the remainder of her life. She is hesitant and lets Damon know that she will think about his offer. It is also revealed that it had been Damon who had visited Eustacia during that eventful summer day, with the intention of trying to entice her into eloping with him. Eustacia ultimately decides to leave Edgar with Damon, although she feels guilty about leaving her husband for a man who is not worthy of her. Her grandfather tries to stop her by delivering Clym’s letter to her. However, it is too late. Eustacia leaves the village without ever knowing that her husband had had a change of heart.
Thomasin discovers that Damon is planning on leaving her for Eustacia so she immediately informs Clym in the hope that he can thwart their plan. Clym, who is still in love with his wife, hopes to convince Eustacia to come back to him and the heath. He leaves to catch the two while Thomasin too decides to assist in the counterplan by asking Diggory to take her to them. Thomasin and Diggory reach the place and find out that amidst all the drama, Eustacia has fallen down into the dam and her two lovers have jumped in too, in order to save her. Diggory goes after them but it is too late; he is only able to save Clym. Damon and Eustacia are no longer alive. Clym wakes up and accuses himself of being guilty of the death of both his mother and wife. He had been unable to save both and now, he must live without either of them.
The plot fast-forwards to a few years ahead, which shows that Thomasin has remarried and is happy with Diggory as she is now married to a man who truly loves her. After the deaths of their spouses, Thomasin and Clym were living in the same house and Diggory had taken up a new profession as a dairy farmer. He decided to woo Thomasin and this time, she had not rejected him.
Clym had initially refused to support the couple as he had plans of marrying Thomasin himself but after realizing that Thomasin will be much happier with Diggory than she would be with him, he gives his permission. He decides to spend his life as a widower, never marrying again, and wanders from one place to another as a religious preacher. In the end, in a way, he had changed himself to be more adventurous like his wife had wished him to be while she had been alive.