Christopher Newman, a young American millionaire who is looking for more in life than a business career. He goes to Paris to experience European culture, and he hopes to find a wife who can aid in developing his natural abilities. Both modest and astute, he has a depth of integrity that is recognized by both men and women. He is also generous in his response to the qualities of others. When he meets Claire de Cintré though his friend, Mrs. Tristram, he is drawn to her noble character and touched by her adverse situation. In his relationship with the Bellegarde family, Newman’s innate decency stirs some of them to admiration and others to a desire to exploit Newman’s naïvete. Newman is refused Claire, who retires to a convent. Because he has evidence showing that Claire’s father was murdered by his wife, Newman is tempted to bargain for Claire, but his innate decency leads him to destroy the incriminating evidence.
Claire de Cintré
Claire de Cintré (sahn-TRAY), née Bellegarde (behl-GAHRD), a young French woman locked in the rigid confines of her mother’s domination. When she was forced into marriage with a worldly old man, her invalid father could not save her; a few years later, however, her husband’s death released her. This is the woman Newman meets and loves. Seeing in Newman a sensitive and reliable man, she responds to his goodness. She is just beginning to feel strength and freedom when the Bellegardes withdraw their permission for her marriage to Newman. She is further distressed when her amiable younger brother dies in a duel. She knows intuitively of her mother’s crime of murder, but there seems no way out of her dilemma. She chooses the only path open to her—the convent—where she can at least escape her family. One senses that sorrow has taught her only to endure; she does not know the enormity of her sacrifice in giving up Newman.
Mr. Tristram, Newman’s somewhat boisterous American friend.
Mrs. Tristram, a woman much more perceptive than her husband. Her warmth is a kind of sisterly affection for Newman.
Madame de Bellegarde
Madame de Bellegarde, a French aristocrat, a hard woman with neither morality nor integrity.
The Marquis de Bellegarde
The Marquis de Bellegarde, the elder son in the family; he is like his mother in character.
Valentin de Bellegarde
Valentin de Bellegarde (vah-lan[n]-TAN), the younger son. He is a man of wit and kindliness who loves his sister. He dies in Switzerland as the result of a duel motivated by his affair with Mlle Nioche.
Mrs. Bread, the Bellegardes’ servant. She goes to work for Newman after Valentin’s dying words instruct her to reveal Madame de Bellegarde’s secret.
M. Nioche (nee-OHSH), an elderly French shopkeeper whose age and experience permit him some philosophical observations.
Mlle Nioche, his daughter. An indifferent artist, she is able to support herself by her physical charms. She is last seen in London escorted by Valentin’s distant cousin, Lord Deepmere.