Aubrey Tanqueray, a wealthy English widower. He is resolved to marry a second time, to a young woman from a lower class. The marriage is disappointing, because he finds the young wife’s boredom perplexing and her humor and cynicism embarrassing. He finally learns that his young wife has been his daughter’s suitor’s mistress.
Paula Ray Tanqueray
Paula Ray Tanqueray, a younger woman of somewhat questionable character, loved by Aubrey. She is unsure of herself but glib. After her marriage, she finds she is bored and lonely in the country. She intercepts a letter from Ellean Tanqueray to her father, is discovered, and promises to try to be a better wife. When she learns that her former lover is her stepdaughter’s suitor and that she stands in the way of her stepdaughter’s marriage, she commits suicide.
Ellean Tanqueray, Aubrey’s teenage daughter by his first wife. She is highly religious and considers becoming a nun. When she thinks her mother’s spirit has told her to do so, she returns home for a time. She falls in love with an army officer who proves to have been her stepmother’s former lover.
Captain Hugh Ardale
Captain Hugh Ardale, an army officer who courts Ellean and wins her love. His marriage to her is delayed, however, because he was at one time Ellean’s stepmother’s lover.
Cayley Drummle, Aubrey’s good friend, who tries to counsel him against a marriage with a woman from a lower class.
Mrs. Alice Cortelyou
Mrs. Alice Cortelyou, Aubrey’s longtime friend and neighbor, the first of his set to call after his marriage to Paula Ray.
Sir George and
Lady Orreyed, friends of Paula Ray before her marriage. She invites them to the Tanqueray home after the marriage, despite her husband’s objections. They prove to be coarse, boorish, and even insulting to guests.
Mrs. Tanqueray, Aubrey’s dead wife, who had not made her husband happy. When she died of a fever, one of Aubrey’s friends observed that it was the only warmth ever to have come to the woman’s body.