George Winterbourne, a young Englishman for whom the world goes awry. After an unhappy childhood he turns to dabbling in writing, painting, and sex. Becoming an officer in World War I, he finds himself regarded as a failure by his superiors. Discouraged by opinion, as well as by the lives and characters of his father, mother, wife, and mistress, he stands erect during shelling by German guns and is killed.
Elizabeth Winterbourne, young George’s promiscuous wife. She is a would-be intellectual who as a young woman is infatuated by the idea of free love. When she thinks she is pregnant, she forces a marriage with George. Although she remains promiscuous afterward, she is angered by her best friend’s becoming her husband’s mistress.
Fanny Welford, Elizabeth’s best friend and George’s mistress. A blasé creature, she spends George’s last night in England with him, but she is not interested enough to arise from bed, or even awaken fully, when he leaves her the following morning.
Mr. George Winterbourne
Mr. George Winterbourne, young George’s father. He marries to escape a domineering mother, only to find that he hates his promiscuous wife. Being a sentimental man, he prays for his wife’s soul and awaits her pleasure when sent to a hotel while she entertains one or another of a string of lovers.
Mrs. George Winterbourne
Mrs. George Winterbourne, young George’s mother. She is an elderly wanton who is proud of having had in her life a series of twenty-two lovers. She lavishes a kind of love upon her son and, when he dies, plays a role as the mother bereft of a hero son.