Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 628
The Romany Rye
The Romany Rye, known previously as Lavengro, George, and Shorsha, all terms of respect for his linguistic accomplishments among the Gypsies. The young wanderer is alert, perceptive, friendly, and resourceful. He is traveling to acquire a better understanding of language differences. Not content with knowing meanings and sounds, the tinker turned horse trader wants to know reasons, folkways, mores, and rituals; in short, everything interests him, especially the nomadic life of the Romany groups, the Armenian Gypsies. Like an errant Don Quixote, the hero rights wrongs, sets things straight, and always extracts life histories from those he encounters. He irritates many with his questions, but this Romany Rye (Gypsy gentleman) almost always wins respect and admiration.
Isopel (Belle) Berners
Isopel (Belle) Berners, an Amazon of the open road. Although she is not a Gypsy, she goes her independent way without interference. The flaxen-haired and handsome young woman has laid out numerous travelers who made untoward remarks, but she respects and admires the hero. She refuses to marry him, however, on the basis that she believes him to be mad because of his philological curiosity. Finally, to maintain her independence and be true to her vision, she leaves for America alone.
Jasper Petulengro, the Gypsy who more than anyone else helps the Romany Rye with his research. Jasper not only aids Lavengro with introductions to interesting and important leaders in the encampment but also buys his adopted brother a fine horse. Although known to cheat in business and misrepresent the truth, he is a true friend and a natural gentleman.
Ursula, Mrs. Petulengro’s sister, a young widow intended for the hero; instead, she marries within her group. Through this beautiful young woman, the young semanticist learns shades of meaning, particularly the ways and words of brushing off an advance. Although nothing comes of the romance, Ursula occupies a warm spot in the heart of the hero.
Francis Ardry, the hero’s associate from his London publishing days, who reappears and brings his adventures up to date. This handsome, wealthy, and resourceful man has dissipated his energies and destroyed his character through frivolity. Charming as he is, the hero does not lament parting from him for the last time.
The Man in Black
The Man in Black, who appears briefly, proselytizing the hero and his landlord for the Roman Catholic church. The contrast of this cynical and learned churchman and the simple, direct Methodist evangelist forms one of the most controversial arguments of the author’s autobiographical books. Both the landlord and the linguist turn down the monk’s overtures.
Jack Dale, the confidence man who has become an honest trader in spite of the underworld connections of his family. Proud to a fault, Jack will not permit a word against him or his character, nor will he allow the hero to interrupt his lengthy discourse of his life’s adventures. Independent and honest, he has made a good living, reared a fine family, and earned the respect of his constituents in a most dishonest trade.
Murtagh, the Irish boyhood friend of the adopted Gypsy. He has given out many secrets of the old language and folktales of the ancient Irish. Irrepressible and humorous to the point of being ridiculous, Murtagh regales the tavern with his stories of card sharping. He is a generous and pleasant companion whose reunion with the hero brings the series of sketches to a close.
The Chinese Scholar
The Chinese Scholar, an old man who has spent what would otherwise have been an indolent life in transcribing ideographs and symbols from pottery. He befriends the hero and tells his sad story. He lives the life of a Chinese sage because of his translations.
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