Why do some characters in novels become favourites while others are largely ignored, overshadowed by the more likeable creations who immediately spring to mind when their authors’ names are mentioned?
In The Guardian recently several writers named some of the female characters they feel are not so well-loved as they might be and it’s an interesting list. Everyone loves Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, but for John Mullan Fanny Price from Mansfield Park is a more ‘audacious’ creation.
The choice of Brontë heroine can be very revealing but it’s generally between Jane Eyre and Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. Personally I’m Team Catherine despite her being “too mischievous and wayward for a favourite”. Or perhaps because of it. Tessa Hadley finds Lucy Snowe from Villette “a fascinating mixture of abjection with appetite”. I find her unbearably sad but the story must have something because that great writer Alan Hollinghurst thought she was interesting enough to retell it in The Folding Star.
Favourite Thomas Hardy heroines might be based on who played them in the movie version. Perhaps that’s just me – trivial enough for anything. Fond but very distant memories of Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene in Far From the Madding Crowd battle with Natassja Kinski’s beautiful and pitiful Tess Durbeyfield in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It’s got to be Tess – spurned by that pill Angel Clare even if he did try to make it up later on. Margaret Drabble must be unswayed by Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Sue Bridehead from Jude the Obscure because Drabble was captivated by “one of the great characters of the 19th-century novel” at the age of 17, when she first read the book.
I haven’t read all of Proust (after Ulysses? Perhaps. Perhaps not). Nor have I seen the film adaptation of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. So I cannot comment on Philip Hensher‘s opinion of Madame Verdun from that 3000 page masterpiece. I do like the sound of her though; according to Hensher “she’s shockingly vulgar and loves a good gossip”. My kind of gal.
Kathryn Hughes picked Margaret Hale from North and South and I am in full agreement. Cranford is all very well and Miss Matty is endearing but Margaret is worthy of real admiration. Useless parents, uprooted from a nice life at a whim, forced to minister to the poor of a large Victorian industrial city – she copes with it all with strength and grace.
Most controversial of all might be Lucy Mangan‘s choice of Meg Marsh from Little Women. Not Jo. Or even Beth. I’m not sure if Amy was anyone else’s favourite but she was mine – keen on clothes and pickled limes. But Meg – mother of Demi-John and others I can’t remember the names of, failure at jam making, sensible and more than a bit boring.
Do you have a favourite literary character who has missed out on the adulation they deserve?