Jacques Collin (zhahk koh-LA[N]), called Dodgedeath, a cold-blooded former convict. Collin murders the Spanish priest Don Carlos Herrera and assumes his identity. He then uses the money entrusted to him by other prisoners to install his protégé Lucien in Parisian society.
Lucien Chardon de Rubempré
Lucien Chardon de Rubempré (lew-SYAH[N] shahr-DOHN deh rew-behm-PRAY), a handsome but weak young man of modest background. Rescued from despair by the supposed Don Carlos, Lucien becomes his creature, assumes a title, and, as a wealthy young dandy, sets about to marry an heiress. He falls desperately in love with Esther.
Esther Gobseck, called The Torpedo, an illiterate, eighteen-year-old prostitute. Once she has given her heart to Lucien, she abandons her profession. After being insulted in public, Esther attempts suicide, but she is saved by Don Carlos, who sends her to a convent school. Unable to live without Lucien, she is brought back to Paris, and for four happy years, she is his mistress. when Baron Nucingen notices her, she is ordered to become his property instead.
Prudence Servien, also called Europe and Eugénie, a young former convict. Ostensibly Esther’s lady’s-maid, she is really Collin’s watchdog.
Jacqueline Collin (zhahk-LEEN), sometimes called Asia, Collin’s aunt, a clever, unprincipled woman who is installed as Esther’s cook. She acts for Collin in negotiations with the baron.
Baron Frédéric de Nucingen
Baron Frédéric de Nucingen (fray-day-REEK deh new-sahn-ZHAHN), an elderly banker. No matter how much it costs him, he is determined to possess Esther.
Mademoiselle Clotilde-Fréderique Grandlieu
Mademoiselle Clotilde-Fréderique Grandlieu, an unattractive heiress who is desperate to marry Lucien.
Peyrade (pay-RAHD), or Father Canquoëlle, an elderly man, formerly a high police official. He loves his illegitimate daughter Lydia dearly.
Corentin (koh-rah[n]-TAHN), a mulatto. Once Peyrade’s subordinate, he is now his confederate.
Contenson (koh[n]-teh[n]-ZOH[N]), another spy, a friend of Peyrade and Corentin. He is paid by the baron to discover Esther’s identity.