Vanessa Paris, the beautiful daughter of Adam and Margaret Paris. She is engaged to her cousin Benjie, but because of his wildness, their marriage is postponed for two years. Her father’s death forces her to postpone it still longer. Learning that Benjie has married a woman whom he impregnated, Vanessa wishes him well and later marries a distant cousin, a respected financier. Her husband’s mind fails, however, and he plots to have Vanessa declared insane. Now nearly forty years old, she turns to Benjie, whose wife has left him. They live together happily for a time, until she learns that her husband’s mind has failed entirely and that he cries constantly for her. Vowing to return to her husband until his death, Vanessa goes back to London, but her husband becomes stronger and outlives her.
Benjie Herries, who is in love with Vanessa but is trapped into marriage by another woman. He alone of the Herries family remains unconventional: He loses an arm fighting the Boers; he serves with the Russians in World War I, even though he is more than sixty years old; and in his seventies, he lives a gypsy life in a caravan with one manservant.
Marion Halliday, who at her mother’s instigation goes to bed with Benjie. He marries her, but she later leaves him for another man.
Tom Herries, the son of Benjie and Marion. He and Vanessa become great friends.
Ellis Herries, a financier, Vanessa’s husband and distant cousin. He and Benjie meet at Vanessa’s deathbed without rancor.
Sally Herries, the illegitimate daughter of Vanessa and Benjie. Returning to London, Vanessa takes Sally with her. Sally lives for a year with a young man she expects to marry, but they part and she marries a blind French veteran of World War I. He works for the League of Nations, and Sally goes with him to Berlin to aid the cause of international peace.
Arnold Young, the man with whom Sally lives. His mother objects to the match, and Arnold finally marries another woman.
Judith Paris, Vanessa’s grandmother, who dies when Vanessa is fifteen years old.
Adam Paris, Vanessa’s father, whose death results in the final postponement of Vanessa’s marriage to Benjie.
Margaret Paris, Vanessa’s mother.