Lily, the novel's protagonist, is an unmarried 29-nine-year-old
woman who desires to be a social success. Her mission is to marry
a relatively wealthy man, thereby ensuring her financial stability
and a place in the higher levels of New York society. Unfortunately,
though, her desire to marry someone wealthy clashes with her feelings
for Lawrence Selden, a man of modest means whom she truly loves.
She also suffers from an inability to make decisions, which causes
her to pass up several good marriage opportunities in hopes that
she can do better. Book Two chronicles Lily's gradual expulsion from
society after a false rumor spreads that she has had an extramarital
affair. She eventually joins the working classes before dying at
the end of the novel from a sleeping medicine overdose.
in-depth analysis of Lily Bart.
Selden is a detached observer of the New York society
that Lily aspires to join. He is a lawyer by profession, but he
is not particularly wealthy, which prevents Lily from marrying him
even though they love one another. Throughout the novel, Selden
struggles between his desire to remain detached from society and his
wish to court Lily and convince her to marry him. At the end of
the novel, he resolves finally to propose marriage to Lily, but
his decision comes too late—he finds her dead in her apartment.
in-depth analysis of Lawrence Selden.
The wife of George Dorset. Most of the characters (including
perhaps her husband) know that she has a history of extramarital
affairs, one of which may have been with Lawrence Selden. She is
described as a nasty woman who enjoys making other people miserable, especially
her own husband. She invites Lily on a cruise with her, her husband,
and Ned Silverton around the Mediterranean, but only so Lily will
distract George while Bertha has an affair with Ned. Bertha, the
novel's antagonist, spreads the rumor that Lily and George are having
an affair, then uses her money and influence to keep Lily out of
in-depth analysis of Bertha Dorset.
is Selden's cousin. She is a kind, generous woman who does a lot
of charity work. In Book Two, she becomes one of Lily's only friends,
giving her a place to stay and taking care of her when everyone
else abandons her.
is a dedicated social climber who owns many stocks and lots of property.
At the end of the novel, he asks Lily to marry him, an opportunity
that she passes up at first. Later on, he becomes her friend, and
visits her after she becomes very poor and very sick.
in-depth analysis of Simon Rosedale.
Trenor, the husband of Judy, is a lonely, moody man who
has a particular liking for Lily even though he is married. In Book
One, Lily asks him to invest her money for her in the stock market.
Instead, Trenor invests his own money and gives Lily the profits.
When Lily finds out that the money is not truly hers, she resolves
to pay Trenor back rather than agree to be his friend.
is a young, rich, eligible bachelor on whom Lily sets her sights
early in the novel. Unfortunately, just as Lily decides she must
marry him, he announces his engagement to Evie Van Osburgh. He is
another missed opportunity for Lily.
Judy, a close friend of Lily's, is the social overseer
of the events at the Bellomont, her out-of-town estate. She regularly
hosts large bridge parties and gives Lily a place to stay for up
to weeks at a time. She all but disappears in Book Two.
in-depth analysis of Judy Trenor.
Fisher is known for bringing newcomers, such as the Brys, into society.
After Lily has been expelled from the upper class by Bertha, Carry
is one of the few people who still shows compassion toward her, offering
Lily support and money.
The husband of Bertha, George does not factor into
the novel regularly until Book Two, when he begins to realize that
his wife is cheating on him with Ned Silverton. To complicate the
matter, George seems to fancy Lily, although she will not ever see
him again after people spread rumors that the two of them had an affair.
accompanies Lily and the Dorsets on their Mediterranean cruise.
A young, rich man, he has an affair with Bertha, but manages to
keep it concealed from most of society.
Peniston is Lily's wealthy aunt who lives on Fifth Avenue. Mrs.
Peniston became Lily's guardian after Lily's mother dies. When Mrs.
Peniston hears the rumors that Lily had an affair and learns that
Lily gambles on Sundays, she disinherits her before her death at
the beginning of Book Two, and leaves most of her estate to other
Stepney and Gwen Stepney
Lily's cousin. He married Gwen Van Osburgh in Book One, and is a
regular member of society. In Book Two, he agrees to shelter Lily
for the night after she is kicked off the yacht by Bertha. Jack
and Gwen are a very wealthy couple.
competetive cousin. When Lily asks Grace for financial assistance,
Grace flatly refuses.