Emily Herrick, the novel’s heroine. As she turns from fifty to fifty-one, she undergoes a significant shift in consciousness. She realizes that she is one of the “superior women” who, like the heroines in the novels of Jane Austen and George Eliot, see more and know more than others. She is the most intelligent member of her circle, but the knowledge she acquires is accompanied by a loss of innocence. Unlike the flatter and more comic characters around her, Emily exhibits intellectual powers and moral sensitivity. These give her the capacity to learn and grow. Emily’s feminist perspective reflects the author’s.
Nicholas Herrick, her brother, a short, stocky man twenty years her senior. He has always looked to his sister as his helpmeet and companion. He is the owner of a boys’ school, but he contributes to its welfare only by presiding over school prayers. Those around him do the work for which he takes credit.
William Masson, a tall and lanky don at Herrick’s old college. There is talk of his marrying Emily, but he is paired with another don at the college, to whom he is devoted.
Richard Bumpus, William’s companion, a short, dark man in late middle age. He also is a don. His literary aspirations are more a pretension than a reality.
(The entire section is 469 words.)