Ruth Weiss, the protagonist, is present in almost every scene in the book. Reserved and shy from childhood, she reveals little of herself in conversation but much in her thoughts, which the narrator recounts in a straightforward, objective manner which seems, nevertheless, to have an undertone of pity and irony. On the other hand, the author presents George and Helen Weiss with a singular lack of charity, including in their portraits unredeemed flaws and follies but neither commenting nor condemning. Mrs. Cutler is the only comic character, certainly as lazy and self-indulgent as the elder Weisses, but amusing in her successful search for a husband and a relief from the gloom and boredom of Oakwood Court.
Despite Ruth’s reclusive nature and solitary life, she knows many people; the book is filled with characters who appear only once or twice yet who are unforgettable. Molly Edwards, for example, lives alone in Brighton, suffering horribly and bravely from an almost totally debilitating arthritis. Yet she welcomes the Weisses and does what she can to cheer and entertain them. Her silent courage echoes Ruth’s similar qualities.
The men in Ruth’s life—Richard, Professor Duplessis, and Roddy— are all hopelessly unsuitable; the third, the uninteresting hypochondriac to whom she is briefly married, gives her a feeling of security and gratitude, though the reader cannot help but suspect that the narrator finds this marriage as sad and empty as the two earlier relationships were frustrating and unfulfilled.