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...
(The entire section is 825 words.)