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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The novel is set mainly in New York, but a few chapters are set in a country estate, Bellomont, owned by the Trenors, and a brief episode is set in Monte Carlo. The action takes place during the time of the novel’s publication, the early years of the twentieth century. It takes place over a period of two years.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
A woman born into the social circles of the old rich in New York, but whose own family has lost its fortune and left her with values that keep her attaining to gain entry into the inner circles through marriage to a rich man. A contrary element of Lily Bart’s nature keeps her from carrying through with the mercenary obligation to marry for money.
A young man who is also born into this class of New York society, but whose family, like Lily’s had lost most of its fortune. He is a lawyer and, as a man, is able to live both inside and outside the social world of wealth and privilege. He loves Lily but finds her quest for material security morally repugnant.
Gertrude "Gerty" Farish
A cousin of Selden, who with "a quickening intelligence of the heart" is the person in the novel who looks after women who have fallen through the delicate web of economic dependence and landed in economic need.
Mrs. Julia Peniston
Lily’s widowed paternal aunt, who, Lily says, is "full of copy-book axioms" that only apply to conduct in the 1850s. She "belonged to the class of old New Yorkers who have always lived well, dressed expensively, and done little else." She disinherits Lily.
An ex-suitor of Lily’s whose mother packed him off to India.
Mr. Simon Rosedale
A man whom Lily Bart meets outside Selden’s apartment. He owns the apartment building. He is a Jew and Wharton’s portrait of him is anti-Semitic. He is wealthy, but is still outside the social circle of the old rich in New York. He wants to marry Lily.
A cousin of Lily Bart who paid a debt he owed to Mr. Rosedale by inviting him to a social event at the Van Osburghs.
Mrs. Judy Trenor
A leader of the social scene of the old rich in New York, described as a "tall fair woman, whose height just saved her from redundancy." She is Lily’s friend for a time, but later snubs her, essentially outcasting her from society.
Mr. Percy Gryce
A very wealthy young man whom Lily briefly schemes to marry.
Percy’s mother, who with her son has just moved into a late uncle’s house on Madison Avenue.
Mrs. Bertha Dorset
Described by one of her friends as being "like a disembodied spirit who took up a lot of room," she interrupts Lily’s maneuvering of Mr. Percy Gryce on the train to the Tenors. She ruins Lily’s chances with Percy by telling him stories about Lily. She becomes Lily’s enemy, hurting her reputation irreparably.
A young man in Lily’s social circle, who is addicted to gambling and who is briefly taken up by Mrs. Dorset as a lover and then dropped.
Mrs. Carry Fisher
A divorced woman in Lily’s social circle, who makes her living by helping new rich people learn the manners and meet the people of the old rich society of New York. She has "made a specialty of devoting herself to dull people."
Mrs. Hudson Bart
Lily’s late mother, who determined that Lily would get the lost family fortune back by virtue of her looks. She is responsible to inculcating into Lily the money values that cause her so much trouble--spending above one’s means to make a good show and looking down at poverty as a pig-like existence.
Mr. Hudson Bart
Lily’s late father, who spent the part of his life that Lily remembers working non-stop and going to social engagements with his wife.
Gwen Van Osburgh
Daughter to Mrs. Trenor’s rival hostess. She marries Lily Bart’s cousin Jack Stepney.
The owner of Bellomont to whom Lily appeals for help in investing her small income. The narrator calls him a "course dull man, who, under all his show of authority, was a mere supernumerary in the costly show for which his money paid." He misleads Lily, making her think he is investing her small money when in fact he is giving her money in hopes of sexual rewards. He attempts to rape Lily.
A woman who wishes to ostracize Carry Fisher for her divorces.
Lady Cressida Raith
A guest at the Trenors’ house party.
A member of the social set in New York.
Maria Van Osburgh
A rival hostess to Mrs. Trenor.
A man Lily had a crush on when she came out at nineteen. He married one of the Van Osburghs and now is wheezy and boring.
Evie Van Osburgh
The youngest daughter of the Van Osburghs who marries Percy Gryce.
Char-woman who sells Lily the love letters Mrs. Dorset wrote to Lawrence Selden. She thinks the letters are Lily’s.
A young unmarried woman who enjoys spending time with older matronly women and making herself useful. She develops an animosity toward Lily and tells Mrs. Peniston all the gossip about Lily. She inherits Mrs. Peniston’s fortune.
Molly Van Alstyne
Who goes to the Van Osburgh wedding and tells her mother and Mrs. Peniston all the details.
Mrs. Wellington Bry
A woman of new wealth who has entered the social circle of Lily’s set.
A portrait painter hired by the Wellington Brys to arrange the characters in the tableaux vivants at their big party.
Ned Van Alstyne
An older man who is a cousin of Lily Bart’s. He is with Lawrence Selden when Lily emerges from Gus Trenor’s townhouse after ten o’clock in the evening.
Mr. Wellington Bry
A man with a "business face and leisure clothes" who accompanies his wife on her quest for entry into upper class American society.
Lord Hubert Dacey
A man who makes his living "piloting the wealthy to the right restaurant." He is with the Brys party in Monte Carlo.
Duchess of Beltshire
Sought after by the newly rich Americans who hope to gain credibility by old class connections. She takes up Lily Bart and is perceived to be a threat to Lily by Lord Hubert Dacey.
A society columnist in Monte Carlo.
A woman of the new rich class who, with her husband Sam, has "struck out on a line of their own"; they decide not to try to fit into the old rich circles, but to surround themselves with people who can have fun with them and with whom they can feel at ease. She is led to drop Lily Bart by Mrs. Dorset.
Mrs. Norma Hatch
The last of the new rich women for whom Lily Bart briefly works.
A lawyer and a liaison between the newest of the new rich and those on the fringes of the less new rich.
Freddy Van Osburgh
A young man just out of college who is led by Ned Silverton and Mr. Stancy into a courtship of Mrs. Norma Hatch.
A milliner for whom Lily works trimming women’s hats.
Lily’s supervisor at Madame Regina’s establishment.
A fellow worker at Madame Regina’s.
Nettie Struther Crane
A young woman Lily meets in the park who had been one of the women helped by Gerty Farish’s club.