Jim Calder, the narrator, a writer of popular magazine fiction. Observant, ironic, and critical, he is magnetically drawn to Wickford Point by family relationships, early experiences, and pleasant recollections, but he is equally repelled once there by the combined inconsequence, fatuity, and snobbishness of the Brills. Jim bears some resemblance in both experience and personality to the author.
Mrs. Clothilde Wright
Mrs. Clothilde Wright (née Brill), his violet-eyed cousin, a financially irresponsible scatterbrain, charming but foolish.
Bella Brill, her daughter, a divorcée. She is fickle, perpetually dissatisfied, as irresponsible as Clothilde, and attractive to men but beginning to lose her youthful beauty.
Mary Brill, Bella’s blue-eyed, yellow-haired, mild, and sweet older sister, conscious of her inferiority to Bella in attracting men.
Patricia (Pat) Leighton
Patricia (Pat) Leighton, Jim’s helpful, understanding, and discreet longtime friend. She is an executive of comfortable means.
Joe Stowe, Bella’s former husband, a financially successful writer. He was a close friend of Jim at Harvard and afterward. His brief marriage to Bella was doomed from the start.
Harry Brill, Clothilde’s elder son, a snob, ne’er-do-well, and leech on Clothilde.
Sid Brill, his clothes-conscious, do-nothing brother, another leech.
Avery Gifford, Bella’s wealthy former sweetheart, an amiable young man now married and the father of three children.
Archie Wright, Clothilde’s second husband, a painter.
Allen Southby, Jim’s bachelor friend, an ivory-tower Harvard professor of English, author of a celebrated though not widely read study of early American authors. He is an aspiring novelist with no ability to match his aspiration.
Aunt Sarah, Jim’s aged, forgetful great-aunt, intelligent, classically trained, and acidulous. She is Jim’s principal link with the family past.
John Brill, the Wickford sage, the family poet (possibly modeled on John Greenleaf Whittier and sometimes traced to Edward Everett Hale). Jim thinks of him as an old fraud.
George Stanhope, the literary agent for Jim and Joe.
General Feng, the Chinese commander in whose forces Jim and Joe serve after World War I.
Cousin Sue, the family nurse for Aunt Sarah.
Howard Berg, a man with whom Bella becomes involved.