In Jasper Fforde's very clever novel The Eyre Affair, "literary detective" Thursday Next enters Charlotte Bronte's iconic Jane Eyre book to interact with Jane and Rochester.
Ms. Next's "novel" adventure made me think about which fictional characters I'd most like to meet if I had my own "Prose Portal." The quiet, likable, principled, resilient Jane would certainly be one of them.
Some of the best novels have very believable protagonists, so it almost seems sort of/kind of possible to meet them. Other protagonists are not especially realistic, but that's another reason to want to be in their presence. Either way, one of the pleasures of reading is immersing ourselves in a fictional world to the point where we can imagine being part of that world -- at least as a fly-on-the-wall observer.
Literature has so many characters I'd like to meet that I can only list a few here (mostly from novels I read or reread during the past couple of years, because those books are freshest in my mind). Here they are, in no particular order:
-- Anne Elliot, of Jane Austen's Persuasion, who is warm, capable, intelligent and not that bitter despite having every right to be. One can't help but root for Anne when wondering if her star-crossed relationship with Captain Wentworth will resume after years of the two being apart.
-- Eliza, of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, who jumps from ice floe to ice floe across the Ohio River to escape her pursuers and slavery. This nice, sympathetic character's desperately brave act is one of the most memorable scenes in a memorable novel.
-- Edmond Dantes of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Wrongly imprisoned for years, he becomes a wealthy, powerful, charismatic seeker of epic vengeance.
-- Sam Weller of Charles Dickens' The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Simply one of the funniest characters in the history of literature.
-- Lydia Gwilt of Wilkie Collins' Armadale. Yes, she's a "villainess," but there are understandable reasons why she descended into a life of crime. Plus, she's whip-smart and retains some conscience.
-- Ravic of Erich Maria Remarque's Arch of Triumph. The cynical but ethical surgeon is on the run from Nazi Germany when he's pulled into an unexpected love affair.
-- Connie Ramos, of Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, who's saner than any of the mental-health professionals who "treat" her. Connie made mistakes during her difficult life, but she's a good person and a fighter for herself and others.
-- The title character in John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. He's a high-IQ guy with a tiny body and big heart.
-- The title character in Cormac McCarthy's Suttree. He's a flawed but friendly and tolerant man who opts to live on the edge of society despite coming from an affluent family.
-- Violet Brown, of Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, the very engaging and loyal assistant to the novel's main character.
-- Mariko of James Clavell's Shogun. She's a gutsy, loving translator par excellence in a circa-1600 Japan dominated by men.
-- Bernard Walsh of David Lodge's Paradise News. He's a British citizen visiting Hawaii who allows himself the chance for happiness after living an almost monastic life.
-- Hermione Granger of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Her pals Harry and Ron are just as courageous, but Hermione is also off-the-charts brainy.
-- Reggie Love of John Grisham's The Client. She's a middle-aged woman with an unhappy past who remakes herself into a feisty, side-with-the-underdog attorney.
Which characters in literature would you most like to meet, and why?
(Thanks to the commenters, too numerous to list here, who recommended I read many of the novels mentioned in this post.)
In his part-humorous Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir, Dave Astor recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists, columnists and others such as Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Ann Landers, Hillary Clinton and Coretta Scott King. Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy an inscribed copy of the book, which includes a preface by Heloise and back-cover blurbs by Arianna Huffington and Gary Larson ("The Far Side").