Belinda Portman, an inexperienced young woman when the novel begins. Her character is strengthened rather than corrupted by her exposure to fashionable society. She resists her aunt’s effort to cast her in the role of husband hunter and tries to guard against her feelings of attraction to Clarence Hervey when she is made wary by the inconsistency of his behavior toward her. As an independent-minded woman and a thoughtful reader of serious literature, she rejects superficial measures of social status. When judging others, she looks for evidence of sincere feeling, consideration for others, and educated intellect. She is able to discern the potential for reformation in both Lord and Lady Delacour and help them become their better selves.
Lady Delacour (deh-lah-KEWR), a brilliant success in fashionable London because of her wit and energy. She is emotionally impulsive and a slave to her obsessions: her need for male admirers, her hatred for her rival Mrs. Luttridge, her contempt for her husband, and her fear of the disease she believes is killing her. Behind her social mask is a desperate woman in need of the nurturing support she receives first from Belinda and then from her daughter, her husband, and a few friends.
Clarence Hervey, a young man about town and follower of Lady Delacour. He at first seems infatuated with his own superiority, but he and Belinda soon recognize each other’s strengths of mind and character. Although he falls in love with Belinda, he feels committed to marry Virginia St. Pierre, his ward, and thinks he must keep his distance from Belinda. Only Lady Delacour’s production of Virginia’s secret love can release him from his commitment.
Lord Delacour, Lady Delacour’s husband, her inferior in intellect, with an even greater lack of self-control. He has degenerated into an alcoholic boor, frustrated by her lack of respect for him, manipulated emotionally by her flirtations with other men (one of whom, Colonel Lawless, he has shot in a duel), and determined to hang on to whatever husbandly power he can by denying money for his wife’s extravagances. When Belinda treats him kindly, he turns out to be a warmhearted gentleman who stops drinking excessively, loves his wife and daughter, and can carry on an intelligent conversation. His valet, Champfort, fearing loss of control over his master, is revealed to have been responsible for various plots, including the misinformation that aroused Lady Delacour’s jealousy of Belinda.
Harriet Freke (frehk), formerly Lady Delacour’s favorite companion and inciter of her wilder escapades. She delights in “frolics,” risky behavior on or over the edge of propriety, and frequently appears in male clothing. Having allied herself with Lady Delacour’s enemy Mrs. Luttridge, she tries to persuade Belinda to abandon Lady Delacour and the Percivals. She is caught spying on Lady Delacour at Twickenham, where Lady Delacour has retired for her operation and where Harriet suspects her of receiving a lover.
Mr. Percival and Lady Anne Percival, a couple devoted to each other and their children and free from the false values of fashionable society. Both Clarence Hervey and Belinda are drawn to them and to the model their marriage represents. When Lady Delacour’s jealousy forces Belinda to leave her household, the Percivals welcome Belinda at their country home. Lady Anne lectures Belinda about the dangers of clinging to the memory of a first love and urges her acknowledgment of the virtues of Mr. Vincent as a rational basis for love and marriage.
Mr. Vincent, heir to a West Indian fortune, Mr. Percival’s protégé,...
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and Belinda’s suitor. Unknown to the Percivals, he is addicted to gambling. It is easy for Mrs. Luttridge, who seeks to injure Lady Delacour and Belinda, to draw him into play that costs him his fortune. He is saved from major losses by Clarence Hervey, who threatens Mrs. Luttridge with exposure. Belinda discovers his gambling when she finds in his chambers a Jew from whom he is trying to borrow money.
Virginia St. Pierre
Virginia St. Pierre, also known as Rachel Hartley, Clarence Hervey’s ward. Wishing to save her from repeating her mother’s experience of seduction and abandonment, her grandmother brought her up in forest seclusion where she would never see a man. By accident, though, she saw a portrait of a man whose image she connected with the heroes of the romances that became her favorite reading. She longed for such a hero despite her belief that she owed love to Clarence Hervey, who renamed her and took charge of her education after her grandmother died. At the end of the novel, her life becomes a romance when Hervey finds her long-lost father, now a wealthy man, and Lady Delacour produces Captain Sunderland, the original of the portrait. He has loved Virginia ever since he spied on her in the forest.