Annabel Balch, a young woman of about the same age as Charity, stands as the ideal type of womanhood to which Charity aspires, despite Charity’s claims that she does not care what others think. Annabel is wealthy, educated, beautiful, and sophisticated. In contrast to Charity, who is described more than once as “swarthy,” Annabel is blond and blue-eyed. A relative of Miss Hatchard, she visits New Dormer periodically, but she is a city girl from Springfield with all of the advantages that implies. Even when Charity feels that she is at her best— when she is preparing to wear her white satin dress and be admired by her lover—the specter of Annabel Balch is present, as it is Annabel’s hand-me-down satin shoes that complete Charity’s outfit. In the end Annabel wins what Charity cannot: Lucius Harney’s true love and commitment to marriage. Annabel never speaks during the novel, but she is often seen from afar or remembered at a distance, as is appropriate for an unreachable ideal.
Lucius Harney is a young architect from New York who has come to North Dormer to stay the summer with his relative, Miss Hatchard, while he measures and sketches the important old houses in the area. Although when Charity first sees him he is clumsily chasing his windblown hat, his clothing marks him as a man from the city, and Charity develops an immediate infatuation with him. At the same time, even before she meets Harney she cannot help but compare herself to him and her life to his, making her feel small and dull. As soon as she sees him, Charity wants to be more than she is.
Harney uses Charity as his guide and driver. She shows him around the area, pointing out houses he might wish to sketch for his publisher. In turn, he is her introduction into a wider world she has only glimpsed. He speaks of books and architecture. He takes her to the city of Nettleton, buys Charity her first taste of wine and her first piece of jewelry, escorts her to her first fireworks display, and gives her her first kiss. For Harney, these pleasures are commonplace, but even though he meets them with a hint of superiority he does seem to enjoy sharing them with Charity. Later that summer, he initiates Charity into a sexual relationship, and though the double standard for sexual behavior is strong in North Dormer and the risk to Charity is much greater than it is to Harney, she cannot or does not resist his temptation. His very name, Lucius, derives from Lucifer, a name for the devil.
Harney is never quite honest in his dealings with Charity: he denies that he has given a bad report of her to Miss Hatchard; he prepares to leave town without saying goodbye; he fails to mention even once his engagement to Annabel Balch; and he promises to marry Charity once he has had time to “settle things.” Clearly, he has no intention of speaking to her of marriage until Lawyer Royall forces his hand, and after his angry and embarrassing confrontation with the older man Harney abruptly leaves town. Still, Harney is not ultimately a bad person—simply a young and a weak one.
Miss Hatchard is the elderly great-niece of Honorius Hatchard, the founder for whom North Dormer’s library is named. As the town’s most respected and respectable citizen, she reigns over Old Home Week. She is the very model of the unmarried innocent, who knows nothing of sex and desire and who avoids thinking or knowing about anything unpleasant. When Charity turns to Miss Hatchard for help in escaping Lawyer Royall, Miss Hatchard fails to understand the problem and can offer no assistance or advice. She is surprised when Charity asks for the position as librarian but grants the request when Lawyer Royall makes it. Still, Miss Hatchard places a great value on the library that bears her great-uncle’s name, and she is ready to have Charity replaced when she believes that the library is not being well tended.
Ally Hawes is Charity Royall’s best friend in North Dormer and the poorest girl in the village. The two do not exchange confidences, but they pass pleasant afternoons together making small talk. Ally, who seems content with her simple smalltown life, earns money as a seamstress,...
(The entire section is 1749 words.)
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