Wednesday, 2 January 2008

I don't believe a word of it! (And you can't make me).

Five unbelievable characters in fiction

1. The eponymous hero in Little Lord Fauntleroy, which is one of those books people feel they have read when they haven’t. It’s actually rather a good read, but the Little Lord himself is like no real boy has ever been; so cherishing of his mother, and slow to pick up on what everyone thinks of his bullying old grandpa.

It's his cissy clothes, which started a trend in America at the time (see photo) that everyone thinks of in connexion with him. I found a frankly worrying picture of LLF, with excessive ringlets, velvet and lace, astride another boy, that I have spared you.

2. Lyra, in The Praise Singer by Mary Renault. Lyra is a totally bogus depiction of a high class whore. This is not my area of expertise, but whatever hetairai were like, I am convinced they weren’t like this. And I’m one of Mary Renault’s biggest fans.

3. Esther Summerson in Bleak House. Beguilingly written, indeed one of my favourite characters in the book, but again, fake. Prepared to marry one man out of duty and gratitude, when she is in love with another... So good, loving, and modest. A fictional construct.

4. Harry Potter. Unloved since he was a baby, brought up by the ghastly Dursleys, yet he turns out well-adjusted and nice. Improbable.

5. Leonard Bast in Howard’s End. Carrying a weight of symbolism on his frail shoulders, he is E.M.Forster's lone unsuccessful forray into the lower classes. Better in the Merchant Ivory film, as fleshed out by the actor Samuel West.

Who would you nominate?


  1. Esther was good in the T.V. adaptation. She came over as realistic and not goody-goody. I think you are being too hard on her. She is better than Little Nell.


  2. Hi Nat,

    Who isn’t better than Little Nell!

    They adapted Esther’s character for modern tastes in the television version; the same thing happened to Fanny Price as played by Billie Piper in Mansfield Park.

    Dickens’ ‘good’ young females are too sweet to be wholesome these days.

  3. Ha!

    Good post Lexi. Your comment is about HP is true and I've heard a similar accusation about Oliver Twist.

    Any sign of your crit yet??

  4. Hi HJ,

    Yes, poor old Oliver Twist had a rotten time.

    No sign yet of the crit, and I'm getting just slightly nervous, especially after the slasher job on Stuart.

    To be called a solid writer not once but twice, and wooden used in connexion with one's characters...

    But comments from a literary professional are bound to be helpful, even if dismaying (she grinned pluckily).

  5. The word "wooden" is about as far from describing your writing as can be imagined. But you are right, the great thing about the professional critique is the opportunity to glean some actual useful guidance.

  6. Thanks for the encouraging word, Alan.

    You're right, of course. But didn't your critique send you off in the wrong direction for a while?

    Like any other review, it's just one person's opinion. But worth considering carefully.

    (I'm now going round in circles. On the one hand this, on the other that, until you need to be a multi-armed Hindu goddess).

  7. The critique by Martyn B was actually quite encouraging, bracing even. It was my mistake in asking Phil W if there was something specific that kept me from making it from Short List to Winners' Circle. It was then that I heard the "You're writing the wrong book" and I took it too much to heart.

    Now I'm working on an epic of the Napoleonic Wars, concentrating on the Russian Front. Plus there's a doctor who loves a woman he can never have and an elderly lady who figures out who killed who in her inimitable old lady sort of way.

    Never been done before.

  8. Ooh, Alan, does it cover great sweeps of time as well as place? With larger-than-life characters one will never forget?

    And is the woman trapped in a loveless marriage, but eventually will have to follow the course her tempestuous heart dictates?

    I can't wait.

    As long as there are jokes too.

  9. Heathcliff & Catherine from Wuthering Heights.. I would like to slap the back of both their legs.
    Spoiled or what!

    I love the book and the film

    Best wishes,


  10. I so agree, Annie!

    Though I think for me they both qualify more for the category Fictional Characters You Can Really Do Without. I've never finished the book, as Heathcliffe, Catherine et al make me too cross.

    As a romantic hero, Heathcliffe doesn't do it for me. Probably because he's as different as can be from Mr Knightley (Emma) who is my type...

  11. Lexi, don't worry about the crit, you'll be fine, I can't see you getting a hatchet job. And even if you do, you'll live. I had a very bracing crit for one story (Moonface) and I survived (just about). Sadly,the story didn't.

  12. Alan, I've looked up your crit. Not much to grumble about there:

    'Over the years, I have read many, many opening chapters by aspiring novelists, but yours does genuinely rank among the more assured, and enjoyable, I’ve come across'.


    HJ, I've had a look at your crit too. Nitpicky. And I did you a review of Moonface when I was new; the mark was okay, but the review grudging. Sorry.

    At least you've recycled the hero's name.

  13. "As long as there are jokes too."

    Jokes? Me write jokes? Whatever gave you such a notion?

    Dogs and farts, those are the two constants in my art.

    And yes, the crit by Martyn was wonderful. I should never have asked "what was the deciding factor in Pink Belly not making the final three?" I suppose it is possible Phil W. just imposed his will on Martyn B. as regards my book?

  14. Yes, some questions one should never ask, or answer. Usually they begin, 'Now tell me honestly'.

    I know not the Phil W. of whom you speak. But I don't like what I've heard of him so far.

    Let's blame him. For everything!

  15. I should be writing a schedule (I'm at work now) but it is the schedule for the last week we are open and it is depressing as hell.

    Phil Whitaker was the other final judge in the YWO Book of the Year thingie. He wrote "Freak of Nature" which I liked. Strange and completely inaccessible to anyone who either doesn't live in the UK or is a heck of an Anglophile, but a cool, unusual book. He and I corresponded rather frequently for a while and my impression is that he is a very nice man. But I should have known from his work that he wouldn't exactly get what I'm trying to do.

    Back to the schedule............

  16. I do sympathize.

    The only good thing about depressing jobs is it's nice when they're over...unless you have a whole list of them, in which case you have to resign yourself to a Thatcher Day, as I call them, after a remark Lady Thatcher once made.

    She said you felt better after a day spent tackling difficult tasks, than you did after a day lolling around.


  17. Lexi,

    I'm borrowing your blog to comment on Alan's online journal.

    How exciting. Going to college. Congratulations, youngster. I think that is a bold move and one that should be fun. It sounds stimulating.

    Note: in regard to your comment about attending college in the early 1970's ... I am that old.

    The answer to the algebra question is--

    We now return you to your regular blogcast already in progress.

  18. Exciting? I'm scared as hell and already tired thinking about the process. And remember, I still have to find a full time job to make ends meet so this whole thing could get blown away by another lousy employer.

    But tomorrow I'm calling the advisors' office at the local community college to see if I can get an appointment this week.

    And then I'm robbing a bank.

    Oh, and somehow your algebra answer didn't make it into the light of day. May I call on you if I need homework assistance?

  19. It's been a while since I've done algebra of that caliber but between me and a friend of mine (a retired math teacher), I'm sure I can help.

    See my new play "The Bemused: a Triangle." for math tips.

  20. Alan, you'd make such a good English teacher that if you have to learn algebra to do it, then that is what you will have to do.

    What you want is an inspired math(s) teacher who will make all clear. Goodness, you're bright enough.

    Go, Alan!

  21. Thanks for the offers of assistance and words of encouragement and faith. Maybe when I am within whispering distance of sixty and facing my first classroom of hormone bedeviled teenagers I will look back on this decision and say "What the hell were you thinking?"

    I hope not.

    Who was the wonderful soul who set up the Mutual Accountability Group blogger site? Thank you!

  22. That was me, in a trice. Blogger is so easy.

    Teenagers will think you are cool, because you can make them laugh.