George, the narrator, who is called “Lavengro,” the Zingary gypsy word for “word master” or “philologist.” In this romance of circumstantial incidents and philosophical conversations, George is in search of something in which to believe. As a child, he moves about with his family. Apprenticed to a lawyer, he is convinced that authorship is his calling. Always mindful of his surroundings—nature, people, things—George goes through the strain of establishing himself in London, getting some of his writing accepted, and leaving the city to become a gypsy. His circumstantial relationships with various associates constitute the theme that no man is an island. George passes through the stages of scholar, writer, and tinker.
Lavengro’s Father, an army officer. His influence on his son is manifest in two ways. The father’s gift of books, including Robinson Crusoe, to his young son turns George’s interest to reading. George’s escapade in fighting can be traced to his early recollection of his father’s having fought for an hour with a swarthy individual, Big Ben Brain. Typical of the barrier between father and his sensitive child is the father’s lack of understanding of his second son’s interests and his preference for George’s older brother.
John, George’s older brother, an artist.
Jasper Petulengro, George’s gypsy friend. From childhood, George and Mr. Petulengro meet intermittently. Their first meeting is in a gypsy camp near George’s home, when he attracts the young Jasper with a de-fanged viper. At successive meetings, Mr. Petulengro offers George a home with the gypsies, avenges his mother-in-law’s death by fighting with George, and teaches George to make horseshoes so that he may sustain himself on the road.
Isopel Berners (Belle)
Isopel Berners (Belle), George’s companion in the gypsy camp when he turns tinker. The handsome young woman is the illegitimate child of a gypsy mother and a noble father. At their first meeting, Belle instructs George in defending himself against a gypsy with whom she is roaming and who wants to steal George’s tinker supplies. George and Belle’s platonic relationship is the essence of beauty as they sustain themselves by peddling George’s wares. She is also in search of something beyond her present condition. They live fully as they converse in the dingle with the various passers-by who stop to discuss religions, nationalities, words, and dreams of far-off places.
Mrs. Herne, also Hearne, Petulengro’s mother-in-law, who takes a violent dislike to George. Biding her time, some years later Mrs. Herne gives him poisoned food. Seeing that he is not going to die, the old crone jabs at his face, attempting to blind him. Unsuccessful, she commits suicide because of her loss of face resulting from her failed attempts at murder.
Peter Williams, a Welsh evangelist. He happens by at the time of George’s poisoning and sees George restored to health. Hearing Peter’s harangue of self-condemnation for having sinned against the Holy Ghost, George gives his benefactor a new view of himself and his evangelistic work. Believing in his own goodness, Peter goes back to Wales to continue preaching the gospel.
Winifred, his wife, whose compassion toward her husband and his guilt feelings is supported by George’s attitudes. The Williamses try to get George to travel and work with them in their evangelism, but the young tinker declines their offer in order to continue his own search for truth.
Francis Ardry, George’s associate in London. A young man of means being groomed for Parliament, he shows George, in his period as a writer, the night spots of London.
Glorious John, a wealthy Armenian publisher in London and George’s friend. After a long period of conversations on writing, translating, and relationships among peoples, George loses his friend through philosophizing that had he the Armenian’s wealth, he would fight the Persians in their oppression of the Armenians. This chance remark provokes Glorious John’s unceremonious departure for his home country.
The Apple Woman
The Apple Woman, an old vendor at London Bridge. A rare book owned by the apple woman plays a big part in the story. Given to George, who will exchange the book for a Bible, the book is stolen. The theft and the grand price the thief unwittingly receives for the rare volume is a lesson, from the thief, to George in his subsequent bartering.
The Flaming Tinman
The Flaming Tinman, a tinker who accosts George to take his tinker supplies from him. Called “the Blazing Bosville” by Belle, the Tinman, a bully of the roads, has driven other tinkers out of business. George’s defiance of the Tinman is abetted by Belle, who leaves the company of the Tinman and Moll, his wife, to stay with George.
Jack Slingsby, the tinker whom George bought out as he starts on the last stage of his search. Slingsby has been forced out of business by the threats of the Tinman.
The Man in Black
The Man in Black, a patron of the public house near George and Belle’s dingle, who comes to the camp at night to talk.