My 27th birthday came on Thursday, and it was awesome. The Chancellor let me sleep in, and I spent a lot of time shamelessly enjoying the attention people lavished me on Facebook (seriously, my friends and family are the best–I am so spoiled). Then, after a dinner of homemade white cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, my sister E came up for the evening, and we watched the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (an odd choice, I realize, but I had finished Larsson’s trilogy over Thanksgiving…plus, Daniel Craig). We discussed the film at length afterwards, and then segued into The Hunger Games trilogy, which The Chancellor and I just finished this break. All of this got me to thinking about literary characters that I adore the most, and why. So, to bring in a little Christmas cheer, Queen Bess’s top ten literary loves:
Honorable Mentions: Lyra Bellacqua, His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman; Meg Murry, Time quartet, Madeline L’Engle; Amy Dorrit, Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens; Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf; Mma Precious Ramotswe, No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith; Jo March, Little Women, Louisa May Alcott; and Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins.
Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables and sequels, L.M. Montgomery: I read this series to pieces each year throughout my late childhood and adolescence, and there is still a charm to Anne’s wist, yearning optimism, and endearing naivete. Reading Anne brings back so many memories.
Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: anyone who knows me will not be surprised by this inclusion. Elizabeth is an obvious contender for best literary female, and for good reason. She’s witty, pert, and smart. She’s imperfect, but grows in her self-awareness. She is well-read, socially adept, and lively. What’s not to love?
Fanny Price, Mansfield Park, Jane Austen: Fanny makes a lot of “least favorite” lists, but never mine. In so many ways, she is Elizabeth’s diametric opposite, but Fanny’s deep sense of honor and duty, her delicate social standing, and her tenuous grasp on the poisonous world around her makes her one of Austen’s richest and most perplexing characters. Every time I read Mansfield Park, I gain new insights into her.
Hermione Granger, Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling: When I first began reading the series, I instantly felt kinship with Hermione, whose bookish and know-it-all tendencies and prominent teeth described my adolescence with uncomfortable precision. But as the series progresses, Hermione grows into her skin to become a crucial part of the Hogwarts world. To this day, she is my favorite character in the series, minus one (whom I’ll discuss later).
Lisbeth Salander, Millennium trilogy, Stieg Larsson: You can quibble about the quality of the trilogy’s writing, or the content needing editing all you want. I want to talk about Lisbeth Salander, a young woman who is continually and terribly wronged and abused by people in authority. Yet, despite a vulnerable body and social standing, Lisbeth is unrelentingly fierce. She sometimes makes terrible decisions that I disagree with, but I always root for her. Long after you finish reading, she is someone who remains under your skin. Lisbeth is the most unforgettable character I have encountered.
Honorable Mentions: Lord Eddard Stark, Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin; Captain Frederick Wentworth, Persuasion, Jane Austen; Daniel Deronda, Daniel Deronda, George Eliot; Detective Sherlock Holmes, any number of stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Arthur Clennam, Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens; Alex Perchov, Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer; and Kvothe, The Kingkiller Chronicles, Patrick Rothfuss.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: Commence eye-rolling. Darcy’s on everyone’s list. But despite his haughty exterior, Mr. Darcy is a man of fierce passion, honor, and loyalty. He is handsome and rich, and he likes lively, independent women. Plus, he is intelligent and well-read. He just needs a cheeky wife to help cultivate his sense of humor.
Septimus Warren Smith, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf: Septimus is my male equivalent of a Fanny Price. He has been damaged by World War I, and amidst his severe traumatic disorder, he tries to move through London on an ordinary day. Septimus never ceases to break my heart. And speaking of heartbreaking…
Severus Snape, Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling: I honestly think Severus Snape is Rowling’s best-written character. He is complex and puzzling, deeply damaged, and fierce. Fierce to a fault, much like Lisbeth. But the series gradually reveals how he, also like Lisbeth, has been deeply wronged by those in power, and how his own choices have led him to become the man he is.
Gilbert Blythe, Anne of Green Gables and sequels, L.M. Montgomery: Gilbert is witty, intelligent, and ambitious. He supports Anne’s literary aspirations without patronizing her. He is imaginative and creative. For years, Gilbert was my literary lover. Until he was just recently toppled by…
Peeta Mellark, The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins: Peeta is unassuming, seemingly inauspicious, and a baker’s son. Not skills that you think of when contending in a nation-wide death race in the wild. Yet, Peeta is witty, charismatic, sincere, and yearning. His sad wistfulness melts me every time. I told E that comparing him to Gale, the other young man in the series, was like comparing Keats to Byron. I’ll take Keats every time. I don’t want to give anything away, because it’s all so worth reading. But Peeta is my favorite character in the trilogy, and he is my new literary lover.
Who are your favorite characters, and what makes them so unforgettable?