Fictional characters, from classical to contemporary, from others to my own (both born and unborn), have been occupying my thoughts. I usually am pondering some aspect of fiction writing off and on throughout the day, and of late that aspect has been the people that are the stories. Today, though, my focus is on favorite characters.
I believe there are many, many ways to do a character “right,” and it varies so much with both the story’s and the character’s purpose and style that we can’t draw strict conclusions about anything except the obvious dos and don’ts. And the obvious are so obvious I won’t go into them here. Besides, every reader likes different kinds of characters, and my set of criteria for a likeable character isn’t going to be the same as yours. But I have noticed a pattern for the characters I call overall favorites. They’re people I admire or identify with or wish I could be like. As such, they’re usually female. Here are examples:
- Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility and Anne Elliot of Persuasion: strongly principled yet polite and self-sacrificing, capable.
- Molly Gibson of Wives and Daughters: sweet, principled, selfless.
- Cora Munro of The Last of the Mohicans: courageous, strong, stoic.
- Jo March of Little Women: creative, tomboyish, honest (some of her traits I’d like to avoid, but I’ve always appreciated her … sincerity).
- Cecilia Beverley of Cecilia: intelligent, unassuming, generous.
- Jane Eyre: intelligent, deep-thinking, unique, principled.
And then—though this list isn’t exhaustive, either—there are the people I wish I could know:
- Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice: witty, frank, one of those people whose good opinion is worth having.
- Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables: open, fun-loving, romantic, talkative, intelligent, deeply literary.
- David Balfour of Kidnapped: nice, unassuming, relatable, able to be rooted for. (I feel, though, that Alan Breck Stewart is a necessity to set him off; therefore they come as a pair.)
- Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey: ironic but kind and attentive.
- Miss Alice of Christy: a wealth of wisdom and experience.
- Margaret Hale of North and South: relentlessly searching for the right of a matter, fearless, someone who seeks out friends.
- Daniel Deronda: gentle, considerate, seeking, principled.
Not all of the books I’ve read have contained definite favorites; sometimes I enjoy several characters equally. I’ve noticed this especially as I got older. Is that a sign of maturity on my part? As you get older, you tend to better tolerate different personality types and appreciate what each one has to offer. For instance, I’m reading Mansfield Park. When I read it the first time, I leaned decidedly toward the protagonists Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price as favorite characters. But this second read-through a few years later has me taking greater interest in Henry and Mary Crawford. I enjoy reading about them just as much as the other two and I’m fascinated with trying to figure out their personalities. I don’t admire them, but their complexity interests me. Books like A Tale of Two Cities and Silas Marner have me watching the whole cast with interest as their diverse personalities and goals interact.
Who are your favorite characters? What defines them? Do you like them because they’re unlikely heroes? Virtuous? Funny? Complicated? Endearing? Courageous?