Ninian Middleton, the father in an upper-class English family. A self-righteous widower who deeply loves his mother and children, he decides to take a new wife and provide his children with a stepmother. When he learns that his daughter Lavinia has taken immoral steps to prevent the marriage, he reacts harshly to her, not by banishing her from the family but by putting her in circumstances in which the act of hiding a letter from his fiancée will never be forgotten and, therefore, never really forgiven. Ninian subsequently makes a similar mistake when his sick brother, Ransom, asks him to burn a will. His own transgression in this situation makes it possible to reconcile with his daughter.
Lavinia Middleton, the eldest daughter of Ninian. She hopes to save her father from the mistake of what she sees as an ill-begotten second marriage. She hides a letter written to her father from his fiancée, and when this act is exposed, she seems unconcerned about being forgiven by other family members. When she inherits money from her uncle Ransom, she announces that she will marry another uncle, Hugo, despite the shadings of incest and the difference in age. Given almost entirely to selfish desires after her first act of villainy, Lavinia never recovers from being tainted, although she does become reconciled with other family members who reveal themselves to be as bad as she is.
(The entire section is 542 words.)