Having named my cat Morse—after Colin Dexter’s Chief Inspector Morse, the ale drinking, opera loving, crossword puzzle whizz, eccentric genius detective in Oxford—I have to admit that I grow attached to characters in fiction.
Some characters feel like old friends, while others are more akin to the peculiar and fascinating person you might meet at a party or a hotel bar—they are extraordinary, but would never fit into your life.
Back in July, when I spent a few days in two of the most elegant hotels in Europe—the Alphonse XIII in Seville and the Westin Palace in Madrid. I had trouble shaking the notion that I’d run into Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Having read so many of Agatha Christie’s books and seen a ridiculous number of TV and film versions, I feel like her fictional detectives are my distant relatives. Perhaps Poirot is an eccentric great uncle and Miss Marple is a wise distant cousin?
While I admire P.D. James splendid detective, Adam Dalgliesh, I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about him. Would I like to meet him and chat about his cases? YES. But would I feel comfortable? No, I don’t think so.
Moving outside the mystery genre, am I a little bit in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy? Of course, I am. Isn’t everyone? Jane Austen’s iconic difficult romantic hero in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a near perfect object of affection. He may be responsible for making life difficult for generations of less-than-perfect real life men. If Mr. Darcy is the measure, than most men will fail. Of course literature is full of beautiful, enchanting women, busy making life tough for the rest of us. Few real women are as noble as Cordelia in ‘King Lear,’ as alluring as Daisy Buchanan in ‘The Great Gatsby’ or as sexy as Brett Ashley from ‘The Sun Also Rises.’
In ‘The Brimstone Wedding’ Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) created two memorable women characters. I cried at the end of the book because, as the novel ended with the older woman’s death, I knew there would be no more conversations they could share with me. Stella and Jenny were so well drawn, so vivid and alive that I mourned Stella’s death. That’s a memorable character! I felt a little murmur of that mourning at the end of ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ by Muriel Barbary.
Compelling stories drive us to read. Compelling characters invite us to love them. Any memorable characters you’d like to share?