September 26: Ten Books That Feature Characters ____________: Examples: Ten books that feature black main characters, characters who hold interesting jobs, characters who have a mental illness, characters that are adopted, characters that play sports, etc, etc. Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!
I decided to do ten characters that are based on characters in other books. There are a lot of retellings of classics that are just bad. But at their best, these books can be innovative, and original. They can add another layer of understanding to the original text and characters, by highlighting elements that were subtextual in the original. I felt that all these characters added something to my understanding/appreciation of the original text/character. For the purpose of this list I didn’t include characters from fairy tales, myths or legends. There must be a definite source.
1. Wide Saragasso Sea by Jean Rhys based on Antoinette (Bertha) Cosway Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre has inspired a lot of fanfiction. Some is good, some isn’t. But novel, featuring the madwoman in the attic from Jane Eyre is haunting, strange and lovely. Antonette Cosway is a Creole heiress who grew up on a decaying plantation in the West Indies. She’s essentially sold into marriage to an Englishman. He brings her to England, away from the only world she knows. In England she finds herself isolated, and expected to conform to narrow expectations of what a woman of her race, class, and gender should be. It’s enough to drive someone insane. In Jane Eyre, I see Mr. Rochester’s actions toward his mad wife as problematic, yes. But given the fact that his wife was a danger to herself and others, she had to be confined. Keeping her confined at home with full time care seemed kinder than what she might expect in a 19th century mental hospital. But in this book, from the wife’s perspective, we begin to wonder if that’s really the case.
“As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the color of fire and sunset. the colour of flamboyant flowers. ‘If you are buried under a flamboyant tree, ‘ I said, ‘your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that.’
She shook her head but she did not move or touch me.”
2. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye based on Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This re-imagining of Jane Eyre features a smart, independent, sympathetic serial killer in the place of the traditional heroine. Jane Steele, like Jane Eyre, was born poor, orphaned, and sent by her aunt to a horrible school (after Jane- accidentally- killed her cousin). At the school she befriends another girl, but the brutal headmaster is preying on the vulnerable girls in his care. So really Jane was justified in what she did… After she leaves school the bodies pile up. She eventually takes a job as a governess, where she cares for the ward of Charles Thornfield. As Jane falls in love with Mr. Thornfield, she becomes curious about his mysterious past. She also becomes rather conflicted about her own. Will a handful of homicides be a deal breaker for Mr Thornfield? This stands out among other works of fanfiction for it’s cleverness and dark humor.
” Reader, I murdered him.”
3. Jack Maggs by Peter Carey based on Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Early in Great Expectations, our protagonist, Pip, encounters Abel Magwitch, a convict. He helps Magwitch and in return Magwitch becomes his secret benefactor. This book opens with Jack Maggs, illegally returned to England from the prison island of Australia. He has a plan that involves revenge, retribution, and justice. He wants to find his “son” and reclaim his house. He draws the attention of a variety of characters including a writer/hypnotist, who promises to help Jack in his quest in exchange for probing his psyche. The names and dates are changed a bit from Great Expectations, but the book makes no secret about the fact that Dickens is its source.
“Now, each day in the Morning Chronicle, each fortnight in the Observer, it was Tobias Oates who ‘made’ the City of London. With a passion he barely understood himself, he named it, mapped it, widened its great streets, narrowed its dingy lanes, framed its scenes with the melancholy windows of his childhood. In this way, he invented a respectable life for himself: a wife, a babe, a household. He had gained a name for comic tales. He had got himself, along the way, a little belly, a friend who was a titled lady, a second friend who was a celebrated actor, a third friend who was a Knight of the Realm, a fourth friend who was an author and tutor to the young Princess Victoria. He did not dare look down, so far had he come. Until this morning, when his fun and games had killed a man.
Then the doctor had cast him out, and this criminal, this outcast, had felt himself free to pick him up and shake him as though he were nothing but a rabbit.”
4. March by Geraldine Brooks based on Mr. March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: We don’t spend much time with the March girls’ father in Little Women. He was away at war for a while. But this novel tells of his experiences with the war. Not only does this paint a horrific (and, sadly, most likely accurate) picture of war, but it also makes the reader look at Little Woman in a different way. How are the March family’s social activism and beliefs linked to their loss of status and fortune? How is all of the above linked to the abolitionist movement? It’s also interesting to see how March sees his wife and daughters. We feel like we know them well from Little Women, but March sees them a bit differently than a reader might.
“I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces. The broken cities, the burned barns, the innocent injured beasts, the ruined bodies of the boys we bore and the men we lay with.
The waste of it. I sit here, and I look at him, and it is as if a hundred women sit beside me: the revolutionary farm wife, the English peasant woman, the Spartan mother-‘Come back with your shield or on it,’ she cried, because that was what she was expected to cry. And then she leaned across the broken body of her son and the words turned to dust in her throat.”
5. Clarissa Vaughn from The Hours by Michael Cunningham based on Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: The Hours is always a tough book to describe. It imagines Virginia Woolf in the process of writing Mrs. Dalloway. It also imagines a 1950’s housewife, reading the book, and questioning her life. But for me, the most vivid of the three main characters is Clarissa Vaughn, who, like Mrs. Dalloway, is throwing a party, and trying to get things ready for it. Like Mrs. Dalloway, we follow her through her day, as she confronts her life and her choices. The three stories eventually intertwine and come together. But for me Clarissa’s strand seems to stand out a bit. I read this book in college and my professor called it “literary graverobbing” due to Cunningham’s channeling of Woolf’s style. I wouldn’t call it that myself, because I see it more as Cunningham have a conversation with Woolf than with copying her.
“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face. Always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it. To love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard. Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”
6. Bod from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimen based on Mowgli from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: Bod (full name; Nobody Owens) is an orphan who has been raised in a cemetery, by ghosts. We go through several vignettes and episodes in Bod’s childhood. While I was reading this, I honestly didn’t see any parallels to The Jungle Book. Even the title didn’t tip me off…. But when a friend pointed it out, all of a sudden it was unmissable!
“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”
7. Erik from Phantom by Susan Kay based on Erik from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: It’s hard to believe, just based on it’s massive popularity, but Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera wasn’t all that good. It had its moments, but it seemed to veer from mystery to horror to romance and back again. I never felt a strong attachment to any character. In this book Susan Kay resolves a lot of those issues. She follows the character, Erik, from birth. Erik is horribly disfigured from birth, but also, astonishingly gifted. He travels across Europe, learning that while love might forever elude him, power is within his reach. He creates a home for himself in cellars of the Paris Opera House, where he must finally resolve his conflicted nature. We feel for this character, in a way that we don’t in Lereux’s work, because we’ve seen his journey. His past isn’t as mysterious, but we’re more invested in it.
“Is the mask magic?” he demanded with sudden, passionate interest.
“Yes.” I bowed my head, so that our eyes no longer met. “I made it magic to keep you safe. The mask is your friend, Erik. As long as you wear it, no mirror can ever show you the face again.”
He was silent then and when I showed him the new mask he accepted it without question and put it on hastily with his clumsy, bandaged fingers. But when I stood up to go, he reacted with panic and clutched at my grown.
“Don’t go! Don’t leave me here in the dark.”
“You are not in the dark,” I said patiently. “Look, I have left the candle …”
But I knew, as I looked at him, that it would have made no difference if I had left him fifty candles. The darkness he feared was in his own mind and there was no light in the universe powerful enough to take that darkness from him
8. Willie Bodega from Bodega Dreams by Ernesto B. Quinonez based on Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Just as Fitzgerald evoked Long Island, Quinonez evokes Spanish Harlem, where Willie Bodega rules. He can get you whatever you need, in exchange for loyalty. Chino is a young man who turns to Bodega for a favor, and finds himself drawn into Bodega’s world, where he learns that Bodega’s ultimate goal is his first love, Vera. The book is notable for how it recreates the setting. Even someone who has never been to Spanish Harlem comes away from reading this, with an understanding of the sights, the sounds and the smells.
“He was street nobility incarnated in someone who still believed in dreams… triggered by a romantic ideal found only in those poor bastards who really wanted to be poets but got drafted and sent to the front lines.”
9. Ada from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier based on Penelope from The Odyssey by Homer: I read The Odyssey by Homer when I was in high school. It wasn’t really my thing. When I heard that Cold Mountain was inspired, in part, by Homer’s epic, I wasn’t that interested in reading it. I’m glad I overcame that hesitation though. I found Penelope one of the more interesting characters in The Odyssey, and I wanted to spend more time with her than Homer did. Fortunately this novel gave me Ada, a Southern gal waiting for her fiance to return from the civil war. As her beloved Inman journey’s home to her, Ada must learn to revive her father’s farm and to survive in a new world.
“…for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were. All your grief hasn’t changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You’re only left with your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not.”
10. Felix Phillips from Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood based on The Tempest by William Shakespeare: Felix was once a renowned theater director. He was ousted from his post by his assistant, and so he hides away and plans his revenge. Under a fake name he begins to teach literacy in a prison. Each year his class puts on a Shakespeare performance. When the time is right for Felix’s revenge, he stages The Tempest for his former assistant. As he stages the play he reenacts the events in his own life. It’s all very meta.
“The rest of his life. How long that time had once felt to him. How quickly it has sped by. How much of it has been wasted. How soon it will be over.”