Mr. Britling, a famous English writer. Convinced before World War I that the idea of a possible war with Germany is nonsense, he is greatly troubled at the outbreak of the war, though convinced that Germany will lose quickly. Gradually, the magnitude of the war becomes clear to him, and he becomes so disturbed that writing is impossible. At last, even though his oldest son, fighting for England, and his children’s admired German tutor, who went home to fight for his country, are both dead, Mr. Britling becomes reconciled to the idea of death. He believes that a better world is in the making and that things will be different after the war.
Mr. Direck, an American who goes to England to persuade Mr. Britling to give a series of lectures in the United States. He is attracted to the Britling family and friends, and he falls in love. He is at first only a spectator of the war. After going to the Continent to find news of Britling’s secretary, who is missing in action, he volunteers in the Canadian Army.
Hugh Britling, Mr. Britling’s oldest son by his first wife. Hugh lies about his age and manages to be sent to the front. He is killed.
Teddy, Mr. Britling’s secretary. He is missing in action and presumed to be dead, but he comes home with one hand gone.
Letty, Teddy’s wife. Convinced at last that her husband is dead, she finds consolation in Mr. Britling’s philosophy, and she also is reconciled to death. One day, she sees her living husband in front of the cottage.
Cecily (Cissie) Corner
Cecily (Cissie) Corner, Letty’s sister. Direck falls in love with her.
Herr Karl Heinrich
Herr Karl Heinrich, the German tutor of the Britling children. He does not believe in the war but goes home to serve his country. He is killed.
Mrs. Britling, the second wife of Mr. Britling. They have not been in love for many years, but they cooperate in running a pleasant household.
Mrs. Harrowdean, a widow with whom Mr. Britling has a love affair. The love affair does not run smoothly; in the period just before the war, they quarrel by mail.