March 7: Bookish People I’d Like To Meet (These can be authors, book characters, book bloggers/influencers, cover designers, cover models, etc.)
I decided to go with characters for this one.
Sherlock Holmes from the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. – I actually think anything requiring conversation with him would be very awkward (and pretty intimidating) so I wouldn’t want a meal or anything. But I’d be curious (and a little nervous…) to know what he could tell about me from first glance!
Clarissa Dalloway from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf- It’d be strange. I doubt the conversation would flow because she’s such an interior character, and I have no idea what we’d talk about, but I just have the feeling that she’d be interesting.
Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – This is another one I’d want to talk to mostly for some amusing stories about her friends and family. Plus, it’d be nice to catch up with all the Strarkadders and find out how everyone is doing.
Scarlett O’Hara and/or Amber Clare from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor respectively – I’d like to know what both of these ladies did once their respective books ended. Both books end with a cliffhangery event, and given how determined and stubborn both characters are, I’d like to hear about how the handled it. Whatever they did, I’m sure it was interesting!
Beth March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – I feel like she’s the March sister I know least about. She’s the sweet homebody who dies young. But that’s not an identity in and of itself. I always felt like there was more going on beneath the surface.
February 21: Favorite Heroines (or heroes, if you prefer!) I love Jo March, Jane Eyre, Anne Shirly and Lizzie Bennet as much as the next reader. But rather than put them on another list, I decided to do some underrated heroines, who rarely turn up on these lists.
Margaret Hale in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – While Jane Eyre often tops these lists, Margaret Hale rarely does (in spite of the fact that North and South has gained some notice in recent years due to the 2004 BBC miniseries). She comes from a comfortable background, but when she’s exposed to people who live differently, who don’t have some of the advantages that she’s had, her horizons broaden. She supports local mill workers fighting for better treatment. At the same time, she deals with tragedies and upheavals in her own life.
Betsy Ray from the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace- I’ve only read the first four in the series so far, but I already know Betsy is a kindred spirit. Little Betsy reminds me a lot of Little Fran in that I was also always trying to organize performances, tell people about the stories I made up, and was generally rather annoying! Betsy is lucky enough to have two best friends in the neighborhood, which I didn’t, but still… As I read these, I couldn’t help but relate to Betsy’s life and the trials and tribulations of her childhood, in spite of the fact that my family was a bit different, I lived a few hundred miles away from Betsy, and almost a century later.
Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – It’s been about a million years since I read this one (should give it a reread at some point) but I remember being obsessed with this character as a kid. Based on a true incident, this twelve (at the start) year old girl was left behind on the Pacific island of San Nicholas after her family goes to California. She lives the next eighteen years, mostly in solitude. Even as a kid I admired that kind of strength, independence and self reliance.
Miss Marple from the Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie – I love that people look at Miss Marple and see nothing but a little old lady thinking about knitting and gardening. That just makes it sweeter when she proves herself to be the smartest person in the room. She also encounters quite a lot of nastiness in her line of work, but as long as people’s secrets aren’t homicidal, she takes kind of a live and let live attitude.
Eloise from Eloise by Kay Thompson– When I was a kid, I soooo wanted to be Eloise! Who wouldn’t? She lives in the Plaza and never gets bored (it’s not allowed!). She has all kinds of adventures and drives her neighbors and her nanny absolutely crazy. Yes, her environment is different from that of about 99.9999% of children, but that’s kind of why it’s fun. What kid wouldn’t love to spend their days dealing with self-imposed responsibilities like ordering pointless things from room service?
Emily Starr from the Emily trilogy by LM Montgomery – As much as I love Anne (and she’s one of my all time favorite heroines!) I think Emily is definitely the underrated one. I was ridiculously happy to see Emily of New Moon serve a plot point in the second season of Russian Doll! I think that seeing Emily write her way through grief and toward an adult identity is really beautiful. She’s a little bit darker than Anne in that she’s hurt by some of the negative things she’s experienced, but her journey is very rewarding, and ultimately optimistic.
Emma Woodhouse from Emma by Jane Austen – I know calling an Austen heroine underrated is a bit of a stretch, but I feel like Emma sometimes gets some hate for being “spoiled.” She is. But that doesn’t mean she’s not interesting. She’s very smart, but in her own little world, where things have been fairly easy for her. She’s expected to be pleasant, charming, and decorative, and she is all those things. She’s never really left those set of expectations, and because they allowed her to excel, she’s never learned humility through mistakes and failure. I really enjoyed seeing her come to realize that other people aren’t toys for her to play with. She discovers that everyone has a lot happening beneath the surface, that she may not realize. Through these discoveries she begins to understand the kind of person she wants to be. Even though the novel ends with her marriage, I love that she’s not afraid to reject the idea of it, and think her life would be well spent taking care of her father, among the company of family and friends.
Prudence Sarn in Precious Bane by Mary Webb – Born in Shropshire with a cleft palate, Prudence thinks of this as her “precious bane.” It sets her apart from her neighbors, who treat her with scorn and suspicion. But that sense of distance allows her to think beyond the confining boundaries of their lives. In may ways she is happy: she loves the country where she lives, she even loves her ambitious brother. But most of all she loves the weaver, Kester Woodseaves. Prudence is an intelligent, compassionate heroine who is able to find value and beauty in something that others would curse.
Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – Because Marian is the daughter of her father’s first wife, she’s not entitled to any of his fortune. To add insult to Victorian injury, she’s not very attractive, so she really doesn’t have any hope of marrying “well.” In spite of that, she’s never bitter or jealous of her beautiful younger sister, Laura, who can inherit. On the contrary she’s very protective, and when Laura is in danger, Marian stops at nothing to save her sister. Throughout the novel she bravely takes on the archvillain Count Fosco. Even better, she does it with a sense of humor!
Irene Adler from “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – In the story, Irene isn’t in the position of heroine per se. Actually she’s the antagonist to Sherlock and Watson. But she’s notable for evading Holmes’ traps, outsmarting him and getting away from him. Holmes is not a ladies man by any stretch of the imagination. But he even he ends up respecting her. Because her actions aren’t technically evil or malicious, I think that in looking back at the character from modern day, we can see she’s pretty awesome. Adler features as a fairly prominent character in fanfiction. Sometimes she’s turned into a love interest for Holmes, which isn’t really true to her portrayal here. She’s someone he admires and respects rather than loves.
I did one of these a long time ago. I started trying to think of another ten literary guys I love, but then I started thinking about the guys who are usually cited as literary crushes, who just don’t appeal to me. In most cases I still root for them and their love interests in the context of the book (though there are one or two exceptions to that as well) but they’re just not for me. Just a warning there may be some spoilers here:
Laurie from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- I don’t dislike him, but I definitely think Jo made the right call turning him down. Even at the end of the book, when he’s matured, I still feel like he’s kind of childish. That can be endearing, but it’s not what I’d choose for a partner.
Maxim DeWinter from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- Yes the handsome millionaire would catch my attention. But he’s emotionally closed off from the get go, and learning that he killed his first wife wouldn’t make me more attracted to him (in spite of the fact that it seems to do for his second wife…)
July 9: Character Freebie (any topic you want that deals with book characters!)
1. John Watson from Sherlock Homes by Arthur Conan Doyle- He narrates Homes’ adventures and sort of helps him function. Because while Sherlock Homes is pretty intelligent he doesn’t really thrive in all situations. Watson smooths the way for him at times.
2. Tinkerbell from Peter Pan by JM Barrie – Because every permanently immature boy hero needs a slightly homicidal pixie to hang out with.
3. Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -Sidekick and confident for several characters and she narrates the whole book. She’s a frequently overlooked character but an important one.
4. Diana Barry in the Anne books by LM Montgomery- No she’s not as fun or adventurous as Anne, but few people are! She’s a great foil though, and their friendship gives Anne some of her best moments.
5. George and Bess in the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene – One’s a tomboy, the other is very feminine, but both are willing to question suspects, follow clues and chase villains, simply because that’s what Nancy does.
6. Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling – Arguably these two are more active than Harry. They’re certainly along for the ride no matter what. They’re true friends and they often call Harry out when he’s wrong. That’s an important service!
7. Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Most readers were left wondering what would become of Scarlett without Rhett at the end. I was just as interested in what she’d do without Melanie. Throughout the entire novel Scarlett had seen Melanie as a rival, but Melanie had behaved as a best friend and Scarlett relied on her far more than she realized.
8. Bob from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher- Because every professional wizard needs a snarky skull sidekick.
9. Barbara Havers in the Inspector Lynley novels by Elizabeth George- I’m less enthralled with these after the last couple of books have been disappointments but Barbara makes a lovably fashion challenged cop sidekick. She’s definitely a favorite character who is too often sideline in favor of other, less interesting, characters (IMO).
10. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien- I’m actually not the world’s biggest Tolkien fan (I know, kind of sacrilegious for a fantasy writer to admit!) but come on, this kind of goes without saying…
May 22: Best Character Names (make this as narrow/broad as you’d like)
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– I don’t know which came first, the character or the expression “plain Jane.” But either way, they’re sort of inseparable. Plus, the Eyre sounds like “air” or “heir.” Which is consistent with both the bird imagery used by the character and what we later learn about her.
4. Precious Bane by Mary Webb– Prudence Sarn is a great name for the heroine of this novel. Like the character, it’s strong and practical rather than delicate and pretty.
5. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray– Like her name, Becky Sharp is a teensy bit of cuteness surrounded by harsh edges that might cut you, if you’re not careful. Becky, of course, short for Rebecca, which means “captivating” which describes the character well. But beware of being too captivated…
7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– Heathcliff is a great name for the anti-hero-yet-somehow-not-quite-villain of this book. Dictionary.com defines a heath as “atractofopenanduncultivatedland;wastelandovergrownwith shrubs.” As a foundling, who was largely neglected following his adoption, Heathcliff can certainly be described as “uncultivated.” The addition of the “cliff” at the end of the name suggests danger. It’s consistent with a character who is untamed, vengeful, and unforgiving.
8. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde- Etymologically, the name Dorian is linked to “gold” or “golden” (think El Dorado”) which is consistent with the character’s appearance. But the “Gray” implies some kind of ambiguity, a suggestion that Dorian isn’t as perfect as his initial appearance suggests.
9. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy- Gabriel Oak is a fitting name for the hero of this novel. “Gabriel” comes from the Hebrew meaning “God is my strength” and “Oak” of course suggests a very strong tree. Gabriel Oak is the loyal, steady, moral center of the novel. He draws strength of character, and integrity from the hardships that he endures.
10. A Chrismas Carol by Charles Dickens-Ebenezer Scrooge‘s very name suggests his most notable character trait. The “nezer” hints at the word “miser” without being too on the nose. The last name also suggests “screw” as in he screws people over. I doubt that was intentional on Dickens’ part since I don’t know if the word screw was used in that way when the book was written, but it’s a nice touch now.