Newland Archer: The main protagonist of the novel. Newland is a young man torn between convention (represented by his wife, May Welland) and defiance (represented by his love, Ellen Olenska).
May Welland: The conventional fiancée and, later, wife of Newland Archer. Her character is an interesting paradox. She is consistently described as innocent and pure, dressed in white. Yet, she is conniving, described as the huntress Diana of classical myth, and conspires to control Newland throughout the novel.
Ellen Olenska: May's cousin, a non-conformist. Newland falls in love with her for her defiance of social convention. Ellen leaves her brutal husband in Europe for the comforts of her home in New York. When she returns she finds New York very different from the simple paradise she had remembered. She falls in love with Newland but is silently banished back to Europe by her family.
Mrs. Manson Mingott (née Catherine Spicer): May and Ellen's grandmother. The matriarch of New York society. Although she is the archetype of convention she attained her position by being defiant and aggressive in her youth.
Mrs. Archer: Newland Archer's conventional mother. A widow.
Mrs. Welland: May's extremely conventional mother.
Lawrence Lefferts: The "model of form" in New York society; he is addressed whenever matters of style or decorum are at issue. Yet, ironically, he is a lying adulterer.
Sillerton Jackson: New York society's central gossip, and a good friend of the Archer family.
Medora Manson: Ellen Olenska's aunt and caretaker (Ellen's parents died young) She is eccentric and avant-garde. She raised Ellen like a "gypsy foundling."
Julius Beaufort: A scandalous womaniser. He represents "new" money and new standards. He is the # first to embrace Ellen into society although his intentions may be less than honourable.
Bob Spicer: Catherine Spicer's father. He had a wild spirit; he abandoned her and her mother before she was born.
Mrs. Lemuel Struthers: The widow of a wealthy businessman. She is disliked in New York society for her questionable background.
Regina Beaufort: The wife of Julius Beaufort. When Julius' reputation becomes mired in scandal, she appeals to Mrs. Manson Mingott, who is angered that she would ask the family for backing.
Miss Janey Archer: Newland Archer's gossipy "Cassandra-like" sister.
Gertrude Lefferts: Larry Leffert's wife; she feigns ignorance of Larry's many affairs for the sake of her reputation.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der Luyden: A socially influential couple capable of making or breaking any reputation. They are consistently in control of Ellen's fate.
Nastasia: Ellen's maid.
Mr. Letterblair: Newland's boss at the law firm. Convinces Newland to persuade Ellen not to get a divorce.
Duke of St. Austrey: The socially important, but very dull, guest of honour at the van der Luyden's banquet.
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