Month: July 2014

31 Best Fictional Characters

Here is my list of 31 Best Fictional Characters.

Parameters include: a character must be the protagonist in the book (no minor characters), a character must be human (no robots from Hitchhiker’s Guide or rabbits from Watership Down), and no characters from children’s books. Also, I’m choosing from novels and short stories, not plays. The toughest parameter, I’m finding, is defining the criteria that qualify each character for “best.” Does “best” mean most likable, most interesting, or most memorable? The safest criterion is “most memorable,” I think, since I’m not going to allow myself to go and look any characters up. If I can’t remember their names, they don’t make the list. I’m already fretting about Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. What was the narrator’s name? What? What? How can I possibly leave her out? Maybe it’ll come to me. The characters are listed in no particular order, except you’ll find my two favorites at the top.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

1) Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

2) Dorothea Brooke (Middlemarch, George Eliot)

3) Lucy Honeychurch (A Room with a View, E.M. Forster)

4) Flora Poste (Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbon)

5) Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith)

6) Bridget Fitzmaurice (Rise and Shine, Anna Quindlen)

7) Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)

Not much danger of forgetting this character’s name, is there?

8) Margaret Schlegel (Howards End, E.M. Forster)

9) Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)

10) Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen)

11) Elaine (Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood)

No, I can’t for the life of me remember Elaine’s last name. I’m putting her in. I’m allowed to break my own rules, at least once.

12) Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne)

13) Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain)

14) Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)

15) Jean Louise (Scout) Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)

16) Iris Chase (The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood)

17) Phillip (Pip) Pirrip (Great Expectations, Charles Dickens)

18) Lesley Frewen (The Flowering Thorn, Margery Sharp)

19) Emma Woodhouse (Emma, Jane Austen)

Look how I’m being so subtle, scattering my Jane Austen characters throughout the list instead of lumping them all together. Subtle!

20) Lord Peter Wimsey (Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers)

21) Sherlock Holmes (A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle)

22) Clovis Sangrail (Short Stories, Saki)

23) Sandra Foster (Bellwether, Connie Willis)

24) Ned Henry (To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis)

25) Bertie Wooster (Joy in the Morning, P.G. Wodehouse)

26) Cluny Brown (Cluny Brown, Margery Sharp)

27) Antonia Fremont (The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood)

28) Anne Elliot (Persuasion, Jane Austen)

29) Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair, William Thackeray)

30) Fanny Price (Mansfield Park, Jane Austen)

Or not so subtle.

31) Undine Spragg (The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton)

Well, you know, I think that’s it. Of course, I can’t remember the name of the gentleman who was in love with his cousin in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence or the name of the red-haired reporter in Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger. And I *still* can’t remember the name of the narrator in I Capture the Castle. I can remember her dog’s name, for heaven’s sake. It’s Heloise. Why can’t I remember her name???

For some reason, I thought this list would be longer. But it’s another prime number! I love those.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy


Another List!

Today on That Certain Social Media Site I found another list that inspires me to make my own. Because I’m a blogger, and I can.

The Jane Austen Society of North America posted a link to a list of 100 (Oh, look! A nice round number!) Best Fictional Characters. The full title of the list includes “From Sherlock Holmes to Jane Eyre,” which is kind of funny because neither of those characters actually made the list. Dr. Watson got a nod, but Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester are both conspicuous by their absence. Grace Poole, well, you probably wouldn’t expect her anyway.

I was very pleased to find Flora Poste and Margaret Schlegel on the list. And I was disproportionately pleased that someone chose Bigwig from Watership Down (even though I like Blackberry better). I mean, Bigwig is a rabbit in a book where most of the characters are rabbits, for heaven’s sake, but nobody who has read Watership Down will ever forget him. Also, I’ve been worrying a little of late that Watership Down is fading into obscurity. It’s nice to get a shoutout for one of my favorite books when I worry that nobody’s reading it anymore.

You know, I think a better title for their list would have been “Favorite Fictional Characters of 100 Literary People” because that’s really what it is. They don’t define the term “best” at all. Are the best characters the most likable, the ones with which we identify the most, or the most memorable?

Why is it that people who publish lists so rarely define their parameters? Probably because they can get away with being lazy because nobody cares. At least it certainly appears that nobody cares, given the way these lists propagate themselves over the social media. Still, I feel it’s important to maintain standards, even on a silly little Internet blog. So I will thoughtfully consider my parameters before I publish my list of best characters.

As with my previous list, there will be as many characters as I say there are. Lists with round numbers are so last year. Or the year before. In any case, I am so cutting-edge I don’t need round numbers.

Well, you know what’s coming now. I wanted to give you all notice so you can look forward to it.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

Not Needed

Ah, summer. Social media are just blooming with vacation pictures and advice about Great Beach Reads.

Right, uh-huh. I am currently reading Balzac’s The Country Doctor and I have Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Were next in line. I like reading classics over the summer. I like reading them all year round, really, but I’ve never understood why summer is universally regarded as the time to turn off your brain and read trash. Is it some weird hangover from having summer vacation when we were children?

Anyway, my favorite beach book is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I often bring Middlemarch on vacation with me, because it’s a book I love and that I can’t finish during my vacation. There’s nothing worse, for me, than finishing my book halfway through my vacation and having nothing to read. Of  course, what always happens is that I have to buy another book to finish out the vacation, but then I have two books to haul around in my luggage and I’m a compulsively light packer. So my copy of Middlemarch is well-traveled indeed. William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair  is another good vacation book, but I contend that Middlemarch is the greater novel. In Vanity Fair, the bad characters stay bad and the good characters stay good and there’s no development. You never know what anybody’s going to do next in Middlemarch, besides which I love Dorothea.

So quit bugging me about Beach Reads. I’m not going to the beach, anyway, this summer.

Because the social media experience often makes me feel bitter and angry, here’s my list of Things I Wish Were Not on the social media. I don’t know how many there will be on this list. There could be quite a lot, I suspect, except I do try to control myself. Here goes:

1) Lists of Great Beach Reads

2) More than one vacation picture from any one vacation. Seriously, we know you’re in the South of France or whatever. We don’t need every detail.

3) Couple double selfies. Or should that be Double couple selfies? Well, you know what I mean. The annoying close-ups of the happy couple just glowing with joy at being framed in an iPhone shot together. Too precious for words, especially for my married peers celebrating double-digit wedding anniversaries. Get a room, guys.

4) Shared posts that try to guilt you into sharing, too, by hinting that anyone who doesn’t go ahead and click that share button is somehow callous or uncaring. Gosh, it’s just sharing some dumb online postcard quotation. No obligation there.

5) Disgusting posts that want to tell about what Mommy found on the floor at 4 am when her child had the stomach flu or what is going on with a two-year-old’s learning curve when she is learning what most two-year-olds learn and what most parents of two-year-olds can’t shut up about. I simply can’t fathom why people reply to posts like this. I mean, ew.

Hey, look! I’ve decided on a nice short list of five things. Believe me, it could go on, as do so many things in the social media. My mother, for example, just forwarded me this immensely long, seemingly-endless nostalgia email of photos depicting pop culture items from the 40s and 50s. And she wants me to share them with my daughter. I, a gen-xer, couldn’t make myself get even halfway through. No way is my millennial daughter spending any serious time scrolling through all that. No way on earth.

So go read a classic novel this summer. Whether you’re on the beach or not.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

It’s a Secret

People can be so odd about what they will and will not reveal about themselves on social media.

I mean, I should talk, right? I’m this weird woman with the overly-precious pseudonym and the secret blogging site. On the other hand, I’ve tried to be pretty clear that nobody should expect much information about my personal life here on this blog. I like my secret identity as much as any superhero, and it’s much more fun to blog when nobody knows who I am.

Still, I think the opposite extremes of sharing too much and too little on That Certain Social Media Site are perhaps an interesting illustration of human nature.

You have the people who are constantly telling you way more than you ever wanted to know. How they feel. What they see. What they did while they were logged out and what they are planning to do next week. When they’re on vacation. Where they’re on vacation. Why they’re on vacation. Where they’re staying. Where they’re eating. What they’re eating. All I have to say is, the only person’s vacation I ever want to know this much about is my own. And I will grant the possibility that other people’s interest in my vacation may be limited.

Of course, I don’t have a smartphone, so I’m not out there taking vacation pictures every twenty minutes. I shudder to think that, when I finally invest in a smarter hand-held communication device with a point-and-shoot camera attached, that there is even the remote possibility that my boundaries will shift into over-sharing mode. I certainly do hope not.

On the opposite end, you have people who only share things that have been created by other people. Things like links to articles, quotable little postcards, and online quizzes. I don’t understand why people would want to participate in a social media experience while revealing nothing about themselves. I mean, don’t they know how much fun it is to talk about yourself online? Don’t they want to be in charge of what they say and how they say it? I guess not, and I cannot understand.

And then you have the cagey people who reveal only partial information about their lives, information that inspires a lot of “What? Where? You didn’t tell us! Tell us more!” in the comments section. I can’t figure out if these people are purposely trying for this kind of reaction, or if they are clueless in some really basic way about what they are putting out there. I’m not saying that people should be out there publishing their exact addresses and phone numbers on That Certain Social Media Site. But it does seem to me that if you are going off to college, for example, the status update “Leaving for college! See you in four years!” doesn’t really cut it. I mean, either you want people to know about one of your major life events, or you don’t. Online coyness isn’t charming.

Except when you keep a secret blog.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

Dear Miss Woodhouse

All right, I have decided that it is high time for a Jane Austen-related post. Please note, if you haven’t already, that this is in no way a Jane Austen Blog. I love her work, and I have re-read her six novels many, many times, but a whole blog on one topic? No, I’m afraid I am not disciplined enough for that!

I am currently re-reading Emma. For probably at least the fifteenth time. Emma is special to me, because when Jane Austenites play the “Which Austen character do you think you are?” game, I choose Jane Fairfax. Not because I am elegant and accomplished, but because I can very much see myself in Jane when she says, “I will not say, that since I entered into the engagement I have not had some happy moments, but I can say, that I have never known the blessing of one tranquil hour.” When I do wrong, I am much the same way. I cannot forgive myself easily, and I cannot be calm when I am upset with myself.

Also, I imagine that I am often open to the charge of being reserved. I’m not nearly so charming in person as I am on this blog.

Finally, I have the dubious fortune of being very attached to a gentleman of much livelier temperament than myself. I suppose, for myself and Miss Fairfax (no, I will not call her “Jane”  in the style of Mrs. Elton!) it’s necessary to be with a lively guy who breaks through our reserve and who stirs us up a little. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to imagine, a few years into the marriage, Jane Fairfax Churchill being all, “Frank, just cut it out, okay? You are really annoying me,” or whatever the equivalent of that is in early 19th century language (anyone want to try that in the comments section?).

Query: Do you think Jane Austen is inviting us into a more intimate relationship with Emma Woodhouse by calling her novel merely Emma? I find that I can’t call her “Miss Woodhouse” any more than I can call Jane Fairfax “Jane.”

The more often I read Emma, though, the more I think about one question. When Mrs. Weston, Mr. Knightley, and Emma are talking about Jane Fairfax in Chapter 33, Emma says, “She is a riddle, quite a riddle! …to chuse the mortification of Mrs. Elton’s notice and the penury of her conversation, rather than return to the superior companions who have always loved her with such real, generous affection.”

Then later, Emma asks, “She is not to be with the Dixons… but why must she consent to be with the Eltons? —Here is quite a separate puzzle.”

Mr. Knightley, in the course of his reply, says, “But (with reproachful smile at Emma) she receives attentions from Mrs. Elton, which nobody else pays her.”

This is supposed to be a major rebuke to Emma for not inviting Jane Fairfax more often.

But my question is this: Why is Emma the only one so rebuked? Mrs. Weston has finally achieved independence and a lovely home of her own. Why on earth is Mrs. Weston not inviting Jane Fairfax to Randalls for morning visits, supper visits, or walks in the shrubbery?

We know perfectly well that Emma’s jealousy and resentment of Jane Fairfax are the feelings which preclude Emma becoming “more her friend.” Should we suspect Mrs. Weston of similar feelings? Or is she just not paying attention?

Mrs. Weston is probably one of the least-developed characters in the novel. It never really bothers me, except when I realize she could have taken a much more pivotal role in the development of the plot.

And with such a sociable husband, too! Mr. Weston would never have objected to Mrs. Weston having in as much company as she liked!

Maybe there is something I’m missing.

Poor Jane Fairfax. At least I can easily get away from the Mrs. Eltons in my life. And believe me, I do.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy