The Old Nurse's Story Characters
by Elizabeth Gaskell

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Old Nurse's Story Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Old Nurse's Story Characters


Hester is the “Old Nurse” and narrator of the story. She tells her story to a group of children about their mother Rosamond, whom she cared as a young child. Hester began as a young, lower-class girl attending a village school before she was hired on as a nurse-caretaker. She is described as honest and hard-working. Upon being hired, Hester shows a reverence for her master and mistress, Rosamond’s parents. When Rosamond’s parents pass away, Hester continues to care for her. She shows a great deal of affection for Rosamond and is emotionally tied to her. Throughout the story, Hester shows herself to be brave, resourceful, and intelligent in frightening circumstances.


Rosamond is the daughter of Hester’s master and mistress. Rosamond is orphaned at an early age and is cared for primarily by Hester. She is described as a wonderful and beautiful child. As the story progresses, Rosamond forms a bond with the phantom girl. She follows the phantom girl to the Fells, and later she cries and argues with Hester about wanting to let the little girl into the house. Rosamond, who is the same age as the phantom girl, truly cares for the girl and wants to help her. Despite Rosamond’s wishes to help the phantom, Hester makes sure to stop Rosamond from going near the phantom girl—especially after Rosamond nearly dies on the Fells because of the ghost.

Grace Furnivall

Grace Furnivall, or old Miss Furnivall, is the octogenarian inhabitant of Furnivall Manor. She is wrinkled, nearly deaf, and always attended by her caretaker, Mrs. Stark. Grace is mostly quiet and passive, but as events unfold in the story, Grace becomes agitated and shows a great deal of emotion. In her youth she was a beautiful and prideful woman. She also acted with jealousy and cruelty toward her older sister, Miss Maude Furnivall. Maude married and had a child in secret with the man Grace loved—the foreigner musician. Out of spite, Grace told their father, who expelled Maude and her child from the manor on a cold winter’s night. Because of this, Maude went mad and her child died. Grace acted with impunity when she was young, but in her advancing years her actions led to an unfortunate climax. The ghosts of Maude, her daughter, and the old lord haunt the manor. Near the end of the story, Grace confronts these phantoms and sees an image of her younger, spiteful self. She becomes paralyzed with shock, and she dies after uttering, “What is done in youth can never be undone in age!”

Mrs. Stark

Mrs. Stark is Grace Furnivall’s maid and companion, and she is nearly the same age as Grace. She has been with Grace since she was very young and has acted more as a friend to Grace than Grace’s own sister, Maude. Mrs. Stark—similar to her name—is cold, stern, and stony. She appears to show love only for Grace, but due to Grace’s deafness, treats her like a child.

Maude Furnivall

Maude Furnivall is the older sister of Grace Furnivall. She is no longer alive by the time Hester and Rosamond arrive to the manor, but her ghost inhabits the Cumberland Fells. Similar to Grace, Maude was beautiful and prideful in her youth. She fell in love with the same man, the foreigner musician, that Grace loved. The foreigner secretly married Maude and had a child with her while courting Grace. Because of this, the sisters developed a hatred for each other that stemmed from jealousy. The foreigner eventually abandoned Maude and never returned. Maude then lives in the east wing of the house, with her daughter kept there secretly. Out of spite, Maude informs Grace that the foreigner did not love Grace, because he had married and had a child with her. This causes Grace to tell their father about Maude’s actions. He then turns Maude and her daughter out of the manor. Maude and her child are not mentioned by Grace Furnivall or Mrs. Stark, and the other house staff avoid speaking of her. However, her phantom haunts the Fells and appears in the manor. In the end, Maude’s...

(The entire section is 1,274 words.)