It’s time to give your favorite characters some love! Characters are essential to a story, and they can make or break a book for some readers. Now’s your chance to shine the spotlight on your favorite characters, or maybe your least favorite.
I suppose this is obvious but I have to begin with Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. She is insightful, intelligent and so very funny. Her ability (and by extension, Austen’s) to make the polite backhanded compliment an insult is unparalleled.
“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”
Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”
“I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me. […] Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude,” replied Elizabeth, “have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family, or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by his marrying me, it would not give me one moment’s concern—and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn.”
Next, I have to mention Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The two are so perfectly suited for one another. They illuminate each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They have tiffs, to be sure, but in the end they are best friends and would be lost without the other. As brilliant as Holmes is, he cannot (and often does not) function without Watson, his conscience. Watson, on the other hand, comes to realize his own intelligence by exercising it on cases with Holmes.
Watson on Holmes
‘This fellow may be very clever.’ I said to myself, ‘but he is certainly very conceited.’ -A Study in Scarlet
So silent and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained bloodhound picking out a scent, that I could not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he turned his energy and sagacity against the law instead of exerting them in its defense. -The Sign of Four
I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing. -The Hounds of Baskerville
Holmes on Watson
‘The ideas of my friend Watson, though limited, are exceedingly pertinacious. For a long time he has worried me to write an experience of my own. Perhaps I have rather invited this persecution, since I have often had occasion to point out to him how superficial are his own accounts and to accuse him of pandering to popular taste instead of confining himself rigidly to facts and figures. “Try it yourself, Holmes!” he has retorted, and I am compelled to admit that, having taken my pen in my hand, I do begin to realize that the matter must be presented in such a way as may interest the reader… Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark that if I burden myself with a companion in my various little inquiries it is not done out of sentiment or caprice, but it is that Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own to which in his modesty he has given small attention amid his exaggerated estimates of my own performances. A confederate who foresees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous, but one to whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to whom the future is always a closed book, is indeed an ideal helpmate.’ -The Blanched Soldier
‘So it was, my dear Watson, that at two o’clock today I found myself in my old armchair in my own old room, and only wishing that I could have seen my old friend Watson in the other chair which he has so often adorned.’ – The Empty House
The above books are ones that I read for the story as well as the characters. A series that I must admit I read firstly (and secondly) for the characters and the plot is just icing, are the Nero Wolfe books. Thankfully there are dozens of stories to read.
Set mainly in the 1930s and 40s, Nero Wolfe is a curmudgeonly, portly detective who keeps court at his impressive brownstone on 35th Street in New York City.
He never leaves the house, he has a live in chef, keeps an admired orchid collection in his rooftop greenhouse and loves the color yellow. His idiosyncrasies are many and thus he employs Archie Goodwin to handle the business side of things. Archie gathers clues, witnesses and criminals by the fistful and brings them to Wolfe’s office.
The books (and short stories) are written in Archie’s voice and they are hysterical. He is a smart aleck who loves to crack wise and get under Wolfe’s skin. At the same time, Wolfe would be stranded without his gumshoe, however annoying he may be. And he has to admit, Archie is good at it.
“Go to hell, I’m reading!”
“I will ride my luck on occasion, but I like to pick the occasion.”
“I’m not trying to pick a quarrel, sir. Hell no. I’m just breaking under the strain of trying to figure out a third way of crossing my legs.”
“Indeed,” I said. That was Nero Wolfe’s word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else’s hide, even Nero Wolfe’s.
— Archie Goodwin
“This is a pleasant surprise, Archie. I would not have believed it. That of course is the advantage of being a pessimist; a pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasant.”
“You are not Archie. Thank God. One Archie is enough.”
— Nero Wolfe
There is also a television show starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin, entitled Nero Wolfe. It was very well made and true to the characters. Watching the two of them fume made for great TV.
I also named my dog Archie.