Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675
Walter Hartright, the primary narrator. Engaged as an art instructor to Laura Fairlie, he endears himself to his student, who is betrothed to an older man of rank. Laura decides to complete her wedding plans, and Hartright leaves to go to Central America. When he returns, he learns of Laura’s unhappy marriage. Hartright then gathers facts to incriminate the conspirators who have plotted to take Laura’s money. He marries Laura, who is now penniless, during the investigation.
Laura Fairlie, who becomes Lady Glyde. In her husband’s conspiracy to secure her fortune, Laura is concealed for a time in her room. Meanwhile, the woman in white is held incommunicado, dies, and is buried as Laura, Lady Glyde. Laura, committed by the conspirators to the asylum from which the woman in white has escaped, is abducted and hidden until Hartright completes his investigation.
Marian Halcombe, Laura’s half sister, who works with Hartright as a protector of the frail Laura. Strong and courageous, she combats Laura’s adversaries during Hartright’s absence. Although she is in love with Hartright, Marian, absorbed in feminism, is willing to remain unmarried and to live with the Hartrights.
Sir Percival Glyde
Sir Percival Glyde, Laura’s husband, who resorts to conspiracy, involving his wife’s incarceration, to get money to pay his debts. Knowing of Hartright’s investigation of his parentage, Sir Percival sets fire to the vestry to destroy church records that would establish his illegitimacy; he dies in the fire.
Count Fosco, his Italian accomplice in the conspiracy. Identified as a foreign spy by Hartright, Fosco exposes his own and Sir Percival’s villainy.
Countess Fosco, his wife, the former Eleanor Fairlie, a gay and socially prominent woman dispossessed by her family when she married the count. Cold and impenetrable because of the secrets sealed up during six years of marriage, she obeys her husband’s orders in the conspiracy.
Anne Catherick, the woman in white, committed as a young girl to an asylum by Sir Percival because he feared she knew his secret. She is the illegitimate daughter of Philip Fairlie, Laura’s father—hence the marked resemblance to Laura. Anne is buried as Lady Glyde. Because of Mrs. Fairlie’s attention to Anne as a child, Anne always dresses in white.
Mrs. Catherick, her mother, who lives on income from Sir Percival for her part in forging a marriage entry in the church records.
Professor Pesca, Hartright’s longtime friend. Pesca’s Italian background helps to identify Fosco as a spy.
Mrs. Elizabeth Clements
Mrs. Elizabeth Clements, Anne’s guardian, who reveals Sir Percival’s past attentions to Mrs. Catherick, pointing to the supposition that Anne is Percival’s child.
Frederick Fairlie, Laura’s uncle. An artistic hypochondriac, he lives in seclusion on the family estate.
Mrs. Vesey, Laura’s former governess.
Hester Pinkorn, Fosco’s cook. She narrates the description of the mysterious young woman hidden in Fosco’s house, her behavior during her illness, and the incidents of her death.
Alfred Goodricke, a doctor who tells of his attendance to the young woman. He attributes her death to heart disease.
Mrs. Eliza Michelson
Mrs. Eliza Michelson, the housekeeper at Sir Percival’s estate. She acts as an informant between Marian and Anne Catherick, when Anne calls secretly in her effort to save Laura from Sir Percival’s wiles.
Margaret Porcher, a slatternly, obstinate housemaid, hired by Sir Percival to keep Marian away from Laura.
Fanny, Laura’s maid, discharged by Sir Percival to rid the house of servants faithful to Laura and Marian.
Mrs. Rubelle, Fosco’s friend, hired as a nurse to Marian to prevent her from foiling the conspiracy.
Major Donthorne, the owner of a resort who writes Hartright about Philip Fairlie’s and Mrs. Catherick’s early affair at his place. This information establishes Anne Catherick’s parentage.