Sebastian Faulks

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Stephen Wraysford

The protagonist of Birdsong and Elizabeth Benson’s grandfather. Stephen is first introduced as young man in France in 1910. He is sent by his British employer to study textile manufacturing in the town of… read analysis of Stephen Wraysford

Elizabeth Benson

Stephen Wraysford’s granddaughter and Françoise’s daughter. Elizabeth personifies the modern English woman, and she is fiercely independent. At thirty-eight, she is already a successful clothing designer and lives a full and productive life… read analysis of Elizabeth Benson

Isabelle Azaire

René Azaire’s wife and Stephen Wraysford’s lover. Isabelle is born the youngest of five daughters, and it is always expected that she will remain at home and care for her indifferent and aging… read analysis of Isabelle Azaire

Jack Firebrace

A British miner. Jack digs many of the tunnels beneath the trenches during World War I, and he works closely with Stephen Wraysford. Jack is kind and hard-working, and sadly, his work in the… read analysis of Jack Firebrace

René Azaire

Isabelle’s husband and the father to Lisette and Grégoire. René runs the textile factory that Stephen Wraysford comes to France to observe, and he is a shrewd businessman and a cruel husband. He… read analysis of René Azaire
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Isabelle Azaire’s sister. Like Isabelle, Jeanne is expected to dedicate her life to her neglectful and indifferent parents, but she has other ideas. Instead, she dreams of making her own decisions and living for… read analysis of Jeanne

Michael Weir

A British soldier and commanding officer of the miners. Weir and Stephen form a close friendship and rely on each other during the darkest days of war. Weir is a kind but scared man, and… read analysis of Michael Weir

Monsieur Bérard

René Azaire’s friend and husband to Madame Bérard. Bérard is a self-important man who, like René, exemplifies the confines of the patriarchy. He either talks over or ignores all the women in his… read analysis of Monsieur Bérard


One of the artillery soldiers in Stephen Wraysford’s unit during the war. Brennan’s brother is killed in the war, and while he survives, Brennan is badly injured in the final battle and lives the… read analysis of Brennan

Lieutenant Levi

A German soldier and children’s doctor from Hamburg. Levi’s brother is killed in the explosion set off by Stephen Wraysford when he is stuck in the collapsed tunnel with Jack Firebrace, and Levi personally… read analysis of Lieutenant Levi


The son of Jack Firebrace and Margaret Firebrace. John is of “frail mind and body,” and he dies of diphtheria while Jack is away at war. In 1978, Elizabeth Benson names her own son… read analysis of John
Minor Characters
Arthur Shaw
A British miner and Jack Firebrace’s closet companion in war. Shaw is killed when Germans blow up a section of the British trench.
Elizabeth’s mother, and the biological child of Stephen Wraysford and Isabelle Azaire. After Isabelle dies in the flu epidemic, Françoise is raised by Isabelle’s sister, Jeanne.
Captain Gray 
Stephen Wraysford’s commanding officer during the war. Gray is Scottish, and he spends most of his time reading novels and books about psychiatry. He manages to survive the war and helps Stephen’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, learn more about the war in 1978.
The husband of Irene, Elizabeth Benson’s business partner. Bob has knowledge of language and archeology, and he cracks the secret code of Stephen’s journals.
Elizabeth Benson’s business partner and Bob’s wife. Irene and Bob are an older couple who never had children. Irene is jealous when Elizabeth becomes pregnant.
Elizabeth Benson’s business partner. Erich is an older man from Austria, and he is disappointed that Elizabeth is not interested in marrying his son.
Margaret Firebrace
Jack Firebrace’s wife and John’s mother. Margaret is an attentive wife who sends Jack letters and parcels of socks and food during the war.
René Azaire’s daughter and Isabelle Azaire’s stepdaughter. As the story begins, Lisette is a teenager who inappropriately comes on to Stephen sexually. She grows into a woman and marries Lucien Lebrun, the dyer who instigates the dyers’ strike.
René Azaire’s son and Isabelle Azaire’s stepson.
Madame Bérard
Bérard’s wife. Madame Bérard spends most of her time admiring her husband.
René Azaire’s senior man at the textile factory. Meyraux is an honest man, and he helps the workers and René agree on terms and avoid a strike.
Lucien Lebrun
One of the textile dyers in Amiens and the lead agitator in the dyers’ strike. Lucien befriends Isabelle when she brings his family food during the strike, and false rumors circulate that they are having an affair. He later marries Lisette, René Azaire’s daughter.
Mathilde Fourmentier
Isabelle and Jeanne’s eldest sister. Mathilde is a sullen young woman who is given to fits of anger. She marries and moves from home.
Béatrice Fourmentier
Isabelle and Jeanne’s elder sister. She forms a fierce alliance with her sister, Delphine, and she later marries and moves from home.
Delphine Fourmentier
Isabelle and Jeanne’s elder sister. She is close with her sister, Beatrice. Delphine too marries and moves from home.
Jean Destournel
A young infantry officer who courts Isabelle before she marries René Azaire. Isabelle’s father tells Jean he is “too undistinguished” to marry his daughter and ultimately scares him off.
A British miner. Turner is killed underground in an explosion during the war.
Bill Tyson
A British miner. Tyson shares a dugout with Jack Firebrace and Arthur Shaw. He is killed in a battle at Beaumont-Hamel.
One of the infantrymen in Stephen Wraysford’s unit. He goes mad early in the war and continues fighting. Tipper reflects the deep shellshock faced by many World War I soldiers.
Colonel Barclay
One of Stephen Wraysford’s commanding officers.
Elizabeth Benson’s old college friend and Lindsay’s husband.
Elizabeth Benson’s old college friend and Mark’s wife. Lindsay is constantly trying to fix Elizabeth up with new men.
One of the men Lindsay tries to fix Elizabeth up with. Stuart is kind and interested in Elizabeth. He is accomplished and cultured, and is considered a good catch; however, he is also overbearing and pretentious. Stuart asks Elizabeth to marry him and she declines.
One of the infantrymen in Stephen Wraysford’s unit. Ellis convinces Stephen to go to Amiens with him during the war. He is killed by enemy gunfire during an assault.
One of the infantrymen in Stephen Wraysford’s unit. Douglas is fatally injured in an explosion. Stephen holds him as he dies.
A Prussian soldier with whom Isabelle Azarie falls in love during the German occupation of Amiens. He is a kind man who takes good care of Isabelle’s child. Max is injured during the war and his leg is amputated. He dies shortly after the war.
A British miner.
Aunt Elise
Madame Bérard’s mother.
A married European man with whom Elizabeth has a relationship. Elizabeth is reasonably happy with him, though she knows that Robert is unlikely to leave his wife.