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Question of the reading week

September 6, 2013

Name a favorite fictional character, and maybe say a few words about why he/she is a favorite.

My own answer: Pearl Tull from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I’m thinking about her and the silly thoughts she had about her children leaving home, like that the way they needed less light to sleep in their beds in her house as they got older resulted in a diminishing of the light at her door, and how she imagined that having another baby would help with how overwhelming her love for the first one was, and how when she had a second and a third she was more in danger than ever.

Put a favorite of yours in the comments?

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2013 8:21 am

    While there are many great ones from which to choose, I think I have to go with the character from which I take my online avatar: Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. I think there are different ways of being a favorite. It can be a character so well drawn that they seem very real to you or it can be someone with whom you identify. Harriet is the first character I remember encountering for which both are true. Harriet represents many things I think are important — a curiosity about the world, a dogmatic dedication to truth even when it doesn’t serve her best interests (and even when she doesn’t really understand what the truth is), refusal to alter her moral compass just because others think she should. She’s more adventurous than I, I think, but is adventurous in ways I’d like to be adventurous, so she inspired. But what makes her a great character are her flaws — her poor and sometimes hasty judgment, her self-centeredness. Harriet is no paragon. She feels like a real person. She has a point of view that is distinct from you, the reader. But beyond this, by dint of being the first, Harriet taught me how to fall, head over heels, all out into a book. It’s a gift that never gets old. 30 some odd years after my first read, Harriet still inspires me.

    • September 8, 2013 9:12 am

      Oh, yes. You know, Harriet the Spy was my favorite book from the summer I turned eleven and read it over and over, and I’d never met anyone else who loved it as much and identified with the character until I started making imaginary friends on the internet.

  2. magpiemusing permalink
    September 6, 2013 8:40 am

    Flora Poste. She’s so delightfully practical and efficient.

    • September 8, 2013 9:14 am

      She is a great character. And as I said in my review of Cold Comfort Farm, she reminds me of my daughter in some ways.

  3. September 6, 2013 8:51 am

    Ooo, fun! This is a good successor to Trivial Pursuit, with the added bonus that I can’t feel like I’ve failed at it. :p

    Not my very most favorite fictional character, but one that I love a lot is Harriet Vane from Strong Poison et seq. I love how she is really smart and also honest in a way that can be ruthless. I like it that Dorothy Sayers let her have edges and didn’t try to smooth them down ever. Although I had no quarrel with Peter Wimsey before, I liked him much better for having the good taste to fall in love with Harriet Vane.

  4. September 6, 2013 9:59 am

    Such a great and difficult question. So many characters immediately come to mind, but I’m going to go with Jo from Little Women. I love her strength and dedication to staying true to herself. In a time when women were lucky to marry a nice man and settle down, she turns Laurie down because she knows they wouldn’t make each other happy. She goes to New York alone. She tries and fails to write. She grows as a person and falls for someone who challenges her to be the best version of herself. She has a hard time controlling her temper and resisting her tomboy side. She’s fiercely loyal and protective of those she loves. She taught me so many lessons when I was young!

    • September 8, 2013 9:17 am

      Oh yes, Jo is a great one to mention. As you know, I disagree about whether she and Laurie could have made each other happy, but I understand the way you read her character, and that going to New York alone shows something about her that a young girl would admire and remember every week of her life.

  5. September 6, 2013 10:01 am

    Of this reading week, I think the character I liked best was Jack Absolute because he’s so cheeky…nevermind that he’s dashing in a British soldier kind of way — even though he is fighting on the wrong side of the American Revolution in CC Humphrey’s book.

    • September 8, 2013 9:18 am

      Ooh, based on a character from Sheridan’s The Rivals…I might have to read about this guy, now!

  6. September 6, 2013 11:01 am

    I am always drawn to characters whose moral standards cause them enormous inconvenience. So my favorite is Jane Eyre. I love her for her wit, and her defiance, and her hard-nosed common sense, but most of all for her unflinching integrity.

    • September 8, 2013 9:21 am

      As a person who is both admiring of and annoyed by characters whose moral standards cause them enormous inconvenience, I have to say that I agree about Jane. The way she comes to her decisions earns her more of my admiration and less of my usual annoyance with people who are so staunch and upright they can’t accept happiness.

  7. Barbara permalink
    September 6, 2013 12:52 pm

    My picks will be all female:
    Favorite young girl, classic: Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) – I love the part where she and her father face down the men trying to break into the prison.
    Favorite young girl, contemporary: Abby Hale (Ordinary Magic) – I like the resourcefulness of the ‘unsocial’ character, and how she copes with adversity.

    Favorite classic mystery heroine: Mrs. Bradley in Gladys Matthews series. She is one of a bunch, but deserves a place right up with Miss Marple and Harriet Vane. I probably have another dozen favorites but this is one that usually slips under the radar.
    Favorite modern mystery heroine: Cat Austen (series) – Her spunk in dealing with those 6 older brothers and an imposing homicide cop make me chuckle, plus I love the dialogue.

    Classic heroine: Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice – one of the most memorable 19th century heroines. She turns down 2 marriage proposals when marriage was the only way her mother and sisters might financially survive the possible death of her father. Plus she’s not afraid of Lady Catherine.
    Contemporary (or at least 20th century) heroine: Mrs. deWinter in Rebecca. Watching her steer her way through Manderley and come into her own – memorable.

    Most manipulative, classic: Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. You hate her and you pity her, and the image of her sitting in that fraying wedding dress is one you dont forget.
    Most manipulative, contemporary: Rebecca. You get a total picture of the character who is dead when the book opens and never appears on the scene. And her ability to reach out from the grave to mess with Maxim and his new wife is creepy.

    • September 8, 2013 9:25 am

      This is so great! I hesitated to ask this kind of question, even in the context of a favorite just for this week, and you gave the kind of answer I think many of us would have liked to give, everyone you think of when asked to pick just one character.
      I like it that some of your characters are not entirely admirable. Scout is the one I think everybody loves and would have thought of if I asked this same question next week.

  8. lemming permalink
    September 6, 2013 1:34 pm

    I’m really enjoying a minor character in the book I’m doing on CD in the car, Harriet Needham. The book is “A Season for Murder” by Ann Granger. Harriet is a “woman of independent means” but one who made use of her time, was kind to others, forthright, and welcoming. It was pretty clear from the outset that she s would end up the murder victim, even if I hadn’t read the back cover, but the investigation means that everyone spends a great deal of time talking about “Harry” – with the result that I like her more.

    Note: she ate a large & hearty breakfast of breakfast appropriate foods right before she died. I take this as as sign that i should stick with pad thai first thing in the morning.

    • September 8, 2013 9:26 am

      Well, at least she got a good last meal.

      • lemming permalink
        September 9, 2013 9:43 pm

        Finished the book. It’s the third of Granger’s I’ve read & she always keeps me guessing. Harriet continued to be amazing, even as we learned more & more. I like her “do something!” approach to life.

  9. September 6, 2013 8:08 pm

    So many good ones already listed! I also like Dorothea Brooke, of Middlemarch. And Claudia Kincaid, of the Mixed up files of mrs. basil e frankweiler for many of the reasons Harriet lists about harriet.

    • September 8, 2013 9:27 am

      Oh yes. Claudia Kincaid is the first character or person I ever encountered with that name, so it’s always had a positive association.

  10. September 6, 2013 10:22 pm

    Tricky. I love both Elizabeth Bennet and Harriet Vane. I suspect that I would like Charlotte Lucas, too. As I grow older, I value quiet practicality–and the kind of temperament able to manage a bad situation to make it a satisfactory one–more and more. Miles Vorkosigan would be fun to meet, but I don’t think we’d be best buddies.

    • September 8, 2013 9:29 am

      Interesting. As I grow older, I think I value quiet practicality less and dramatic refusal-to-face reality more because it seems so much more courageous. Quiet practicality seems to me common in real life, while a character who protests her fate is rare even in fiction.
      As an example, when Ron and I heard what Walker’s senior class gift was last May, we were horrified. We sat there and didn’t clap while everybody else applauded for the security camera his class bought for the school. If I had been braver, I might have protested right then in some dramatic way.

      • September 8, 2013 1:02 pm

        Well, perhaps I’ll feel differently in another 20 years, but for now I appreciate a fictional character who grasps a chance that she believes *she* can turn into a happy outcome for herself. She knows she’s marrying a stupid man, but he is not vicious, and he is respectable (professionally) as Jane Bennet observes. She has few prospects, and she can manage a stupid but guide-able husband, and she will have a safe home, with the prospect of some degree of comfort, and respectability, and she knows herself well enough to know that she will be more content with that than with growing older as a burden to her family, never able to be other than a daughter/sister/aunt. I know that Collins would have been a terrible match for Elizabeth, and I admire her courage in turning down a match that was eligible as to status and fortune, for knowing that it would have been disastrous for the pair of them, given their temperaments. I also admire that Charlotte knew herself well enough to know the match would NOT be disastrous for her, and that this was a good opportunity to be seized. She’ll be a better wife to him than many, and he’ll provide a better life than she would otherwise have had. Well done, Charlotte, despite Elizabeth’s opinion.

        • September 8, 2013 2:16 pm

          It is absolutely true that what was a good decision for Charlotte would not have been a good decision for Elizabeth.

  11. Gwen Bailey permalink
    September 7, 2013 2:38 am

    My favorite fictional character in a children’s book: Pippi Longstocking. I love that her red hair can go into braids that stick straight out.

    Non fiction Children’s: Ann Frank; it’s been her ever since I visited the house her family hid in, and because “Even after all of this, I still believe people are really good at heart.”

    • September 8, 2013 9:30 am

      I think we have a theme going here–that the characters you love as a child turn out to be the first ones you think of when asked about who you love any week.

  12. September 7, 2013 7:12 am

    My pick is a lot more pedestrian than the others. I went through a phase of reading all of Dick Francis’ mystery novels. In Long Shot, the protagonist is an author of survival manuals, real hands on information about how to survive disasters — think car wrecks, train crashes, avalanches, those kinds of things. And his first rule for surviving any disaster was “accept your new reality.”

    That point of view has been so helpful when things have gotten bad. No, I’ve never been in a true disaster, but accepting our new (financial) reality is why Kent & I got through those long periods of un/ under-employment. It was also critically important when we flooded the first, second and third time.

    • September 8, 2013 9:33 am

      So John Kendall is the character you love. That’s not pedestrian! In fact, if I were classifying these, I might put you in the category with people who love characters who are quiet and practical.

      • lemming permalink
        September 9, 2013 9:45 pm

        I like “accept your new reality.”

  13. September 7, 2013 8:31 am

    I am in favor of the large number of Harriets mentioned here.

  14. September 7, 2013 11:59 am

    MumsyNancy has already mentioned my all-time favorite, Jane Eyre. How could she not be a favorite?

    So I’ll mention a recent favorite: Mildred from Excellent Women, who says right at the start of the book that she’s nothing like Jane Eyre, even though many women in her position like to think of themselves as being like Jane. (Guilty as charged here.) What I like about Mildred is that she just gets on with life, even if her life is pretty ordinary and she doesn’t know what to make of the people in it a lot of the time. She’s not someone I’d consider a hero, but she felt thoroughly real to me, and that’s what I liked about her.

    • September 8, 2013 9:35 am

      Now I’ll have to read Excellent Women, because this is an intriguing picture of a woman.

  15. September 8, 2013 11:23 am

    My once and always favorite is Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. She was (is) me as a socially inept young girl. (And I can’t help but wonder at my absolute love for rambling gardens that embrace and envelop.)

    • September 8, 2013 11:43 am

      Oh yes, Mary is a great character. I like how she’s so cross at first and learns to be nicer, although she never stops speaking her mind.
      I think Ron loves that character even more than I do, because he’s always making plans for walled gardens and looking for the secret one when we’re wandering around any big, formal garden.

  16. September 8, 2013 11:39 am

    This is probably because I’m in the middle of a Harry Potter re-read, but right now I just love Hermoine. I forgot just out smart and confident and wonderful she is.

    • September 8, 2013 11:45 am

      My niece and my friend Joan identify very deeply with Hermione. I don’t identify with her as much, but love that she’s the intellectual center of the trio.

  17. September 8, 2013 1:03 pm

    I suspect that at one point in my youth, Ender Wiggin might have made my list. He doesn’t any longer, though I still think highly of the book _Ender’s Game_. But…too many more (mediocre) stories were written about him, and Card became too big a figure in his own right, for me to love the character any longer.

    • September 8, 2013 2:18 pm

      I suspect you are not alone in that. Although I have to say, I’ve decided I want to see the movie.

      • Karen D permalink
        September 9, 2013 2:09 pm

        I kind of want to see the movie, but…I’m not sure what to make of the impact the actors’ ages will have on the story.

  18. Jenny permalink
    September 11, 2013 2:48 pm

    I meant to answer this earlier. Stephen Maturin, from Patrick O’Brian’s series. He is passionate about justice and kindness, has a wonderful sense of humor, and is sharply intelligent, but he is also deeply flawed: prickly, prone to depression, private to the point of isolation. I love him so much it’s almost painful.

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