Early in MiddleMarch Dorothea visits Casaubon's house for the first time and is attracted by an old miniature of his aunt (his mother's elder sister). The aunt, according to Casaubon made an unfortunate marriage, disappeared entirely from view and, as we later learn, had a grandson named Ladislaw. Much later, her own marriage less rosy, Dorothea comes again to the miniature:
Here was a woman who had known some difficulty about marriage. Nay, the colors deepened, the lips and chin seemed to get larger, the hair and eyes seemed to be sending out light, the face was masculine and beamed on her with that full gaze which tells her on whom it falls that she is too interesting for the slightest movement of her eyelid to pass unnoticed and uninterpreted. The vivid presentation came like a pleasant glow to Dorothea: she felt herself smiling, and turning from the miniature sat down and looked up as if she were again talking to a figure in front of her. But the smile disappeared as she went on meditating, and at last she said aloud—
"Oh, it was cruel to speak so! How sad—how dreadful!"
We eventually learn that the aunt, acting with integrity, has left the family in the aftermath of a financial scam involving her father, the benefits eventually flowing to Casaubon himself - a man with gnawing feelings of guilt and shame. Casaubon's cool attitude and behaviour towards Ladislaw is a legacy of this tawdry past.
And now, since her conversation with Will, many fresh images had gathered round that Aunt Julia who was Will's grandmother; the presence of that delicate miniature, so like a living face that she knew, helping to concentrate her feelings. What a wrong, to cut off the girl from the family protection and inheritance only because she had chosen a man who was poor!