Last Updated on April 23, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 817
Mr. Longdon, a man in his fifties who has spent most of his life remembering the great love of his youth, Lady Julia. When he discovers that Lady Julia’s granddaughter, Nanda Brookenham, is almost a reincarnation of his beloved, he determines to befriend her. Doing so causes him to become immersed in the affairs of Nanda’s family and her social circle, which Longdon considers morally corrupt. He schemes to convince Nanda to leave her parents’ home in London and come to live with him at his country estate.
Fernanda (Nanda) Brookenham
Fernanda (Nanda) Brookenham, a nineteen-year-old woman who has developed a sense of independence and an appreciation for the ways of the world despite efforts of her mother and others to keep her ignorant of the intrigues of the adults around her. She insists on choosing her own friends and establishing her own adult relationships. Her love for Gus Vanderbank ends unhappily when she discovers that he is unwilling to settle into a conventional marriage, forgoing a lifestyle that includes an affair with her mother. Eventually, she finds in Mr. Longdon a person who seems to be above the pettiness and self-centeredness of her mother and her mother’s friends.
Mrs. Brookenham, Nanda’s mother and the daughter of the woman Mr. Longdon has loved for years. She is at the center of a social circle where old-fashioned moral values are held in contempt. Intent on preserving her relationship with the handsome young bachelor Gus Vanderbank, she conspires with the Duchess and others to arrange partnerships among members of her set that will permit each of them to satisfy personal desires while maintaining a façade of respectability. Her enigmatic relationship with her daughter Nanda, who is also in love with Vanderbank, drives her to an arrangement with Longdon to separate Nanda from the man both of them desire.
Gustavus Vanderbank, a handsome bachelor considered by most a highly prized catch for the right young woman. Though attracted to Nanda, he is unable to make a commitment to marry her, principally because doing so would force him to give up a lifestyle he finds comfortable. Part of that lifestyle includes engagement in an affair with Mrs. Brookenham, though the details of that arrangement are never made clear to either the other characters in the novel or to the reader.
The Duchess (Cousin Jane)
The Duchess (Cousin Jane), a cousin to Mr. Brookenham and close friend of his wife. Together with Mrs. Brookenham, she arranges and promotes the many liaisons among the members of her social set. She is determined to find an appropriate match for her niece Aggie and manipulates the younger members of her group until she is able to convince Mr. Mitchett to marry the girl. She is engaged in a long-standing affair with Lord Petherton, but few discuss this matter except with extreme discretion.
Agnesina (Aggie), the niece of the Duchess, a sixteen-year-old ingenue who has been brought to England from Italy. Naïve, passive, and quiescent, she allows herself to be managed by her aunt, finally marrying Mr. Mitchett to please both the Duchess and Nanda, who actively promotes the match.
Harold Brookenham, the Brookenhams’ dissolute son. Infected with ennui , he has no interest in life and no ambition to succeed in any profession. He is content to rely on the kindness of friends such as Mr. Mitchett and on the sympathy of his mother for his support. Knowing that his mother cannot dismiss him from her life, he takes advantage shamelessly of her devotion to keep from having...
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to pay back his debts or to become a useful member of society.
Edward Brookenham, husband of Mrs. Brookenham and father of Nanda and Harold. A spineless figure, he seems self-conscious of his inferior social status and exceptionally accommodating of his wife’s intrigues as a matchmaker and go-between in the affairs of her male and female associates.
Mr. Mitchett (Mitchy)
Mr. Mitchett (Mitchy), a well-to-do young man who is in love with Nanda. Although he pursues her in vain, he is willing to be guided by her directives, even to the point of marrying Aggie to please Nanda. Because he is rich, others like Harold Brookenham and Lord Petherton attach themselves to him to sponge off his largesse.
Lord Petherton, a degenerate nobleman who depends on Mr. Mitchett for income. He has been the lover of the Duchess but eventually turns his interest to Aggie after she marries Mr. Mitchett.
Tishy Grendon, a friend of Nanda who is considered unacceptable by many in the Brookenhams’ social circle. Mrs. Brookenham and others fear that Nanda is being corrupted through her association with Tishy, who invites socially questionable characters to her home and who permits the young Nanda to engage in such reprehensible acts as reading lurid novels.