Cecilia Beverley, a charming, benevolent heiress. To retain the fortune left her by an eccentric uncle, she must marry a man who will take the name of Beverley. During her minority, Cecilia is the ward of three distinct types of men named by her uncle. Her extended love affair with the son of one of the guardians brings her insult, near-poverty, temporary insanity, and finally happiness. Cecilia is the model heroine who reciprocates to those who befriend her, has compassion for those who would harm her, and is benevolent to those who need help.
Mortimer Delvile, her lover and husband. He is a violent admixture of submission to his parents, devotion to Cecilia, and jealousy of others attending to her. Sensitive and unworldly, Mortimer is always in need of a protector.
Compton Delvile, his father and one of Cecilia’s guardians, whose chief objective in life is preservation of the family name. His pride is odious because it is tainted with meanness and incapacity.
Augusta Delvile, his high-spirited and fastidious wife. She loves Cecilia but accepts her as a daughter-in-law with great misgivings because she fears unhappiness for her son in marriage. Her pride is coupled with dignity and generosity of mind.
Mr. Monckton, the self-appointed protector of Cecilia. In love with her, he lies, pries, and spies to avert any attachment between her and any man.
Mr. Harrel, one of Cecilia’s guardians. Using her as a perpetual go-between with moneylenders, he draws heavily on Cecilia’s funds. His gay, fashionable, splendid way of life eventually drives him to suicide to escape his creditors.
Priscilla Harrel, his helpmate in lavish living. Cecilia provides for her after Harrel’s suicide.
Mr. Albany, “the old man in the corner” at various functions. He is silent in groups but articulate with Cecilia in pronouncing his philosophy of benevolence. Through Albany, she provides pensions for the indigent of the countryside.
Mr. Briggs, the third legally appointed guardian, who manages Cecilia’s finances during her minority. Rich, eccentric, uncouth, and miserly, Briggs would have Cecilia live in his comfortless home to conserve her money.
Mr. Arnot, Priscilla Harrel’s brother. Mild, serious, and comfortable financially, he tries to discipline Priscilla in her spending.
Mr. Belfield, an animated, intelligent young man who gives his time to company, his income to his whims, and his heart to the Muses. Injured in a duel, he is helped secretly by Cecilia, whose kindness to him arouses Mortimer’s jealousy.
Henrietta Belfield, his sister, befriended by Cecilia and in love with Mortimer. Through Cecilia, she becomes friendly with Arnot.
Sir Robert Floyer
Sir Robert Floyer, a vain, supercilious man-about-town. A contender for Cecilia’s affection, he involves Belfield in the duel.
Mrs. Charlton, Cecilia’s longtime friend and confidante.
Lady Margaret Monckton
Lady Margaret Monckton, Monckton’s cold, irascible wife, considerably older than her husband and jealous of Cecilia. Ill most of her life, she dies of apoplexy.
Miss Bennet, Lady Monckton’s submissive companion, an accessory to Monckton’s schemes to keep Cecilia unmarried.
Mrs. Matt, one of Cecilia’s pensioners, hired by Miss Bennet to disrupt Cecilia’s wedding.
Mr. Morrice, an officious young lawyer. He keeps Monckton’s friendship by spying on Cecilia.
Lady Honoria Pemberton
Lady Honoria Pemberton, Compton Delvile’s cousin. Volatile and high-spirited, she belies her fashionable education.
Lord Derford, a young nobleman whom Compton Delvile, in his effort to separate Cecilia and his son, urges upon Cecilia.
Lord Ernolf, Derford’s father, willing...
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to accept Cecilia as a daughter-in-law because of her income.
Mrs. Wyers, the landlady of the house where Cecilia goes looking for Mortimer. She keeps Cecilia confined, thinking her mentally unsound.
Mrs. Hill, the wife of an injured carpenter, one of Cecilia’s pensioners. Her rooming house becomes a rendezvous for Mortimer and Cecilia.
Dr. Lyster, the Delvile family physician, who philosophizes, in describing Delvile, Sr., that people make themselves miserable by seeing only one road to contentment when other channels would serve equally well.
Mr. Biddulph, Mortimer’s former schoolmate, who convinces him of Cecilia’s devotion.