John Harmon, also known as Julius Handford and John Rokesmith. After his father’s death, he returns to England from South Africa, where he has lived for some years. On his arrival, George Radfoot, a fellow passenger on the homeward voyage, lures him into a waterfront inn, drugs him, robs him, and throws him into the Thames. Revived by the cold water, Harmon swims to shore. He takes the name of Julius Handford. Meanwhile, Radfoot has quarreled with a confederate, who murders him and throws his body into the river. When the body, wearing Harmon’s clothes, is found, the dead man is identified as John Harmon. Discovering in the meantime that Bella Wilfer, whom he is supposed to marry according to the terms of his father’s will, is a mercenary woman, Harmon decides to keep his identity a secret. As John Rokesmith, he becomes the secretary to the man who has inherited his father’s fortune and takes lodgings in the Wilfer home. When Bella finally realizes that love is more important than money, he marries her. After a year of happiness, he reveals his true identity and accepts his inheritance.
Nicodemus Boffin, also called Noddy and The Golden Dustman, the illiterate, good-hearted confidential clerk who inherits the Harmon fortune after John Harmon’s supposed death. When Mrs. Boffin learns John Rokesmith’s true identity, her husband, at Harmon’s request, agrees to keep the secret. Also at Harmon’s suggestion, Boffin behaves with increasing evidence of greed until Bella Wilfer sees what avarice can lead to. Pestered by a blackmailer over the will, he finally shows that the fortune is really his and then generously hands it over to Harmon.
Henrietta Boffin, his cheerful, simple, affectionate wife, a childless woman who lavishes love on everyone around her.
Bella Wilfer, the young woman John Harmon is directed to marry. A beautiful girl from a poor home, she is taken in by the Boffins, who try to give her the advantages she would have enjoyed as Harmon’s wife. In time, her selfishness is overcome by her natural affections. She makes Harmon a fine wife and bears him a child.
Silas Wegg, a mean-spirited ballad-monger and fruit seller, an ugly person whom illiterate Boffin hires to read to him. A prying rascal, he discovers a will in which the elder Harmon bequeathed his fortune to the Crown. He tries to blackmail Boffin, but he is foiled and tossed out into a garbage cart.
Mr. Venus, a dusty, good-willed taxidermist. He becomes Wegg’s accomplice in the scheme to blackmail Boffin, but he later repents, reveals the whole plot, and wins the heart of Pleasant Riderhood.
Mortimer Lightwood, a bright, cautious solicitor who handles Boffin’s affairs and reports on the developments of the Harmon case.
(The entire section is 1231 words.)