Anne Elliot is an intelligent and sweet-natured 27-year-old woman, the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot and the late Lady Elliot. Ignored by her father and older sister, she is lonely at home as her practicality and perception have little effect on her family. She has regretted breaking her engagement to a man she loved deeply, having been persuaded to do so by Lady Russell, who thought the marriage would not be in Anne's best interests. When her father and sister leave for Bath, Anne's improved environment alters her demeanor. Her former fiancé's reappearance in her life causes emotional turmoil and shows her strength of character.
Captain Frederick Wentworth
Confident, kind, charming, and lucky, Captain Wentworth is still in love with Anne Elliot, who, eight years before the start of the novel, was persuaded to end their engagement because of his social and financial status. When he returns eight years later still unmarried, he has become rich and, consequently, more eligible. Constantly moving in the same social circles as Anne, he is polite yet distant, and he seems to court other women. In fact he still loves Anne but has been deeply hurt by the broken engagement and believes Anne has ceased to care for him.
Sir Walter Elliot
A handsome, vain, extravagant, and irresponsible baronet, Sir Walter Elliot has squandered his fortune and must rent his ancestral home. Obsessed with appearance, social standing, and reputation, he moves to Bath to save face—and money. He continues his pursuit of social connections and never tempers his arrogance and snobbery, nor does he alter his opinions about others as he cannot see past appearances or social standing.
Having inherited her father's good looks, vanity, snobbery, and lack of perception, Elizabeth Elliot is extremely close to her father. Approaching 30 Elizabeth is anxious about not yet having found a husband. Her vanity opens her to flattery and the inability to see past appearances. She dismisses the possibility of Mrs. Clay's designs on her father because Mrs. Clay is not attractive enough for him. However, she fails to notice that Mrs. Clay holds an attraction to someone else—William Elliot, whom she would like to have married.
Following the death of Lady Elliot, Lady Russell, a widow, remains close with the Elliots. Logical and generous, she is Anne Elliot's best friend and appreciates Anne's intelligence and gentle nature. Lady Russell's major flaw, however, is snobbery, specifically about titles and lineage. Because of her honesty and genuine concern, Lady Russell has tried to do her best for the Elliots, particularly Anne, despite having persuaded her to break her engagement because of Lady Russell's misgivings about Captain Wentworth's social and financial status.
Mary Elliot Musgrove
Before the novel begins, Mary Elliot has married Charles Musgrove, whose marriage proposal Anne refused. Mary Elliot Musgrove is a rather neglectful mother of two young sons who thinks of herself first and quite often. A chronic complainer, she views marriage as social climbing and is vocal about what the unions of others mean for her connections. When she is pampered and gets her own way, she is pleasant company and not unkind.
As a young law student before the novel begins, William Elliot snubbed Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot, who saw him as a suitor. A desire for wealth led him to marry a rich woman of lower social standing. His youthful rudeness to the Elliots has alienated him from Sir Walter.
Years later as a widower he encounters Anne Elliot by chance and becomes enamored with her. Now rich, his new interest is obtaining Sir Walter's baronetcy, and he has been ingratiating himself with Sir Walter and Elizabeth, who thinks he might have romantic intentions toward her. Anne suspects his charming manners and ease in conversation mask something less positive; her suspicions are confirmed when she learns of his evil doings that ruined her friend's husband. William Elliot's deception and guile are uncovered when he and Mrs. Clay go off together.