Author: William Makepeace Thackeray
First published: serial, 1857–1859; book, 1858–1859
Locale: England and the Colony of Virginia
Time: Late eighteenth century
George Esmond Warrington, the older son of Madame Rachel Esmond Warrington and her deceased husband, and the heir to the Castlewood estate in Virginia. Impetuous, emotional, and introspective, George volunteers to serve in the French and Indian War under a family friend and neighbor, Colonel George Washington. George Warrington is reported killed in action, but he turns up three years later, his life having been saved by an Indian girl. A short time later, he goes to England, where his young brother, Harry, has been confined in debtors' prison. While in England, he takes up the study of literature and marries the daughter of a family friend. For a time, he tries to earn a living by writing; one of his plays is a success, the other a failure. Then his uncle, Sir Miles Warrington, dies, and George inherits his title and estate. Shortly before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in America, he and his wife return to the family plantation in Virginia; however, having no sympathy for the cause of the colonists, he leaves Virginia and returns to England once more. There he retires to the management of his country estate.
Harry Esmond Warrington, the younger brother of George, an extroverted, gay, and athletic young man, almost the complete opposite of his brother. Motivated by a strong personal sense of honor, Harry became involved in many scrapes in England, where he goes after the report of his brother's death. Usually lucky in gambling, Harry soon becomes the center of a social group of court dandies, but after a wild, profligate career he ends up in debtors' prison. He is rescued by his brother George, who intends to share his patrimony with him. Harry, feeling that he has to justify his life, uses the money to buy a commission in the army and fights under General Wolfe at Quebec. Returning to Virginia, he marries Fanny Mountain, the daughter of his mother's housekeeper and companion. Spurred on by Fanny, an ardent revolutionist, Harry fights against the British in the Revolutionary War. Later, after his wife's death, he returns to England and marries the younger sister of his brother's wife.
Madame Rachel Esmond Warrington, the mistress of Castlewood, a Virginia plantation, a handsome and charming but snobbish woman proud of her Esmond connections in England and preferring to be called Madame Esmond. Always possessive of her sons, she cannot adjust herself to their independence in maturity, and she carries on a feud with them in her last years. A staunch defender of the British crown, she remains a Tory throughout the Revolution.
Baroness Beatrix Bernstein, Madame Warrington's older half sister in England. Cold, grasping, and aggressive, she feels little sympathy for any human being except her young kinsman, Harry Warrington. She uses every device she can think of to break up Harry's proposed marriage to her niece, Maria Esmond.
Lady Maria Esmond, a spinster who claims to be twenty-seven years old but is really forty. Still a handsome woman, she is eager to marry. She flirts with her cousin, Harry Warrington, and inveigles from him a proposal of marriage. A great gambler, she is always in debt. When it is discovered that George Warrington is alive and Harry is not the heir to the Virginia fortune, she releases him from his promise to marry her. Later, she marries a parson, Mr. Hagan.
William Esmond, Lady Maria's brother, a sour individual who dislikes Harry Warrington. Always the loser in his bets with Harry, Will tricks him by paying off his debts with a broken-down mare after he had promised his best animal in settlement.
Fanny Esmond, Maria's younger sister. She is attracted to Harry Warrington, but her mother, Lady Castlewood, discourages the affair because she wants to marry off Maria.
Lord Castlewood, another of Harry's cousins, a gentleman much given to gambling but not much good at it. In his last match with Harry Warrington, he wins the latter's remaining money but is unable to help his kinsman when he is sent to debtors' prison.
Mr. Sampson, the chaplain at Castlewood in England and Harry Warrington's good friend. Kind but foolish, Mr. Sampson is constantly in debt and depends on Harry's generosity for funds. A worldly clergyman, he is fond of the bottle.
Gumbo, Harry's black slave, popular with the domestics in England, where he marries a white maid. He brags unendingly about his master's great fortune and home in Virginia.
Colonel Lambert, the husband of an old friend of Madame Warrington. He takes Harry in and doctors him when the young man falls from a horse while on the way to Tunbridge Wells with Lady Castlewood and her daughter Maria. Fond of Harry, the colonel is greatly distressed by stories about the young man's wild ways in London, and he tries to offer him his guidance. Colonel Lambert is the father of Theo, whom George Warrington marries, and Hetty, who becomes Harry's second wife.
Mrs. Lambert, the colonel's wife, an old school friend of Madame Warrington.
Hetty Lambert, the older daughter of Colonel and Mrs. Lambert, a great beauty and an accomplished pianist. Secretly in love with Harry Warrington, she conceals her feelings because she knows that he is supposed to marry Lady Maria Esmond. At the end of the story, she becomes his second wife.
Theo Lambert, Hetty's sister. She marries George Warrington.
Fanny Mountain, the daughter of Mrs. Warrington's housekeeper. She changes from a gentle girl to a firm-minded woman, and after her marriage to Harry Warrington she domineers him in many ways. An ardent revolutionist, she imbues Harry with some of her fervor and follows him while he serves in campaigns against the British. She dies soon after the close of the war.
Mrs. Mountain, her mother, Madame Warrington's good friend and capable housekeeper. When her daughter and Harry announce that they plan to be married, Mrs. Mountain leaves Mrs. Warrington because of the latter's insults to her daughter.
Sir Miles Warrington, a Baronet, one of Harry Warrington's uncles in England. Jolly, fat, and rustic in appearance and manner, Sir Miles is actually very selfish and cold. When Harry is in prison, Sir Miles makes no attempt to help his nephew, and he disparages the young man before his family. When Sir Miles dies, George Warrington inherits his estate and title.
Lady Warrington, the wife of Sir Miles and a religious addict who constantly thrusts her pamphlets on luckless friends. When Harry Warrington is in prison, she sends him a set of tracts, but that is the extent of her help to her nephew.
Dora and Flora Warrington, the daughters of Sir Miles. Although much taken with their cousin Harry, they distrust him as a bad person because of his profligate ways and their mother's warnings.
Tom Claypool, Dora's intended husband, the village gossip who carries the news of Harry's imprisonment to the Warrington family at their country estate.
Mademoiselle Cattarina, a French ballet dancer, one of the gay charmers at Tunbridge Wells to whom Harry pays court. He breaks off the affair when she becomes too demanding.
George Washington, a neighbor of the Warringtons in Virginia, a simple, upright man of the most scrupulous gravity and good breeding. When George Warrington hears that Colonel Washington is to marry a widow, he immediately concludes that the bride will be Madame Warrington. Warrington challenges the colonel to a duel but makes a retraction when the true state of affairs is revealed by Mrs. Mountain.
Mr. Dempster, the Warrington boys' Jacobite tutor.
Lord March, one of Harry Warrington's friends at Tun-bridge Wells. A young man of fashion, he lives in London, and the two meet frequently in the city.
Lord Morris, another of Harry Warrington's drinking and gambling companions.
The countess of Yarmouth Walmoden, one of Baroness Bernstein's card-playing friends at Tunbridge Wells.
Mrs. Betty, Lady Maria Esmond's maid, who takes a fancy to Gumbo and gets drunk with him and Case.
Case, Baroness Bernstein's servant.
Mr. Draper, the lawyer to the Esmond family. A patronizing man, he conducts Harry Warrington about London until the latter tires of him and asks to be left alone.