Lily Bart, a fascinating, beautiful young woman sacrificed to the false ideals of New York social life, the belief that a “good” marriage is preferable to a happy one and that appearances must be maintained, regardless of the expense. Through the machinations of a jealous wife whose husband has fallen in love with Lily, the hapless woman is eventually brought to social disgrace, poverty, and death.
Lawrence Selden, an intellectual young bachelor lawyer in love with Lily. Although he prefers to remain on the outskirts of New York high society, he is popular and invited into many fashionable homes. Always in the background, he tries to steer Lily’s life for her, but he is too weak to marry her.
Gertrude Farish, called Gerty, Selden’s cousin, who lives alone in a modest apartment and is much taken up with philanthropy. In desperation, Lily goes to her for help, but Gertrude can offer her little solace.
Mr. Rosedale, a young Jewish financier who is trying to enter the upper brackets of New York society. At the beginning of the story, when Lily retains her position in society, he wants to marry her. Later, after her conduct has been questioned and she is willing to marry him, he is no longer interested.
Percy Gryce, a shy young man protected from designing women by his strong-minded, possessive mother. He is much taken with Lily Bart because she shows great interest in his collection of Americana. Eventually, he is frightened off because of Lily’s popularity with other men, and he ends up marrying Gwen Van Osburgh.
Mrs. Gryce, Percy’s mother, a monumental woman with the voice of a public orator and a mind divided...
(The entire section is 765 words.)