Walter Hartright is an "everyman" who tells the majority of the story. He starts out as a poor and unambitious drawing master, but circumstances require him to take action to rescue and redeem the woman he loves. Throughout the story, Walter discovers new depths of ability and resourcefulness. At the end, he confronts and defeats his nemesis, Count Fosco, and succeeds to the happy life he deserves.
Marian Halcombe is a strong, assertive individual, eager to protect and care for her younger half sister. Used against her will in Sir Percival's conspiracy, she eventually is able to take effective action to protect and defend herself and Laura.
Laura, the heroine of the story, is Walter Hartright's love interest and Marian Halcombe's half sister. She is sweet-natured and compliant. She abdicates her right to refuse marriage to Sir Percival and then loses her inheritance. When Sir Percival and Count Fosco have her confined to an asylum in place of her sister, Anne, she also loses her identity. Rescued by Marian Halcombe, she is widowed when Sir Percival perishes in fire. She then marries Walter Hartright and becomes mistress of Limmeridge House.
Count Fosco is the Italian husband of Laura Fairlie's aunt and a friend of Sir Percival. He is brilliant, subtle, and villainous—although he believes himself to be moral in his own way. Fosco engineers the scheme to strip Laura of her fortune and her identity. His regard for Marian Halcombe, however, leads him to make several mistakes that lead to his discovery. Fosco is also a spy and a member of a secret society of assassins. This association leads to his death.
Sir Percival Glyde
Percival Glyde is a baronet (an inherited title) and owner of Blackwater Park. A friend of Laura's father, he is provisionally engaged to Laura. When he marries Laura and takes possession of her fortune, we learn that he is both financially and morally bankrupt. Sir Percival has stolen the rights to his position and incarcerated Anne Catherick to stop her revealing his secret. He and Count Fosco rob Laura of her identity, fake her death, and steal her fortune. In the end, he dies trying to protect his secret and his assets.
Walter's glimpse of the Woman in White as she flees from an insane asylum is the first major event in the story. A simple-minded and illegitimate daughter of Jane Catherick and Philip Fairlie, Anne is Laura's half sister. The two women closely resemble each other. Anne believes Sir Percival has had her confined to the asylum because she knows his scandalous secret. She is used by Sir Percival and Count Fosco as part of their plan to steal Laura's fortune. Her congenital heart condition kills her before the conspiracy can be fully carried out.