Tuesday 9 June 2009

100 Best Characters Since 1900

I like to keep up to date, and so I'm bringing you a top 100 list from... erm... March 2002. This will either be new to you, or a pleasant memory. Book magazine (never heard of it, have they since gone defunct?) created a list of the 100 best characters in fiction since 1900. And what a bizarre list it is. I've copied it down below.

Three of my least favourite characters get into the top five - Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield and Leopold Bloom. Actually I find Gatsby overrated rather than bad, but Ulysses and The Catcher in the Rye, whatever their merits may be, featured two of the most irritating characters I've ever come across. So I'm not in full accord with the list, as you may imagine. Some great choices on there, though - I was especially pleased to see 71 (Mary from Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and 96 (Eeyore).

This, of course, got me thinking who'd feature in my favourite fictional characters since 1900. A hundred is a bit daunting, so I've gone for a top ten. Please join me in making your top ten - or, if you're feeling ambitious, a hundred.

My top ten (which would probably change everyday):

1. Miss Hargreaves - Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (anybody remotely surprised?)
2. Eeyore - Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
3. The Provincial Lady - Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield
4. Aunt Ada Doom - Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
5. Emmeline 'Lucia' Lucas - Mapp and Lucia by EF Benson
6. The Second Mrs. de Winter - Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
7. William Brown - The William books by Richmal Crompton
8. Mrs. Dalloway - Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
9. Cassandra Mortmain - I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
10. Angel Deverell - Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Their Top 100:

1 - Jay Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
2 - Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951
3 - Humbert Humbert, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955
4 - Leopold Bloom, Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922
5 - Rabbit Angstrom, Rabbit, Run, John Updike, 1960
6 - Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902
7 - Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
8 - Molly Bloom, Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922
9 - Stephen Dedalus, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce, 1916
10 - Lily Bart, The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton, 1905
11- Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote, 1958
12 - Gregor Samsa, The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, 1915
13 - The Invisible Man, Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952
14 - Lolita, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955
15 - Aureliano Buendia, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1967
16 - Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, 1925
17 - Ignatius Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980
18 - George Smiley, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John LeCarre, 1974
19 - Mrs. Ramsay, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf, 1927
20 - Bigger Thomas, Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940
21 - Nick Adams, In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway, 1925
22 - Yossarian, Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961
23 - Scarlett O'Hara, Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936
24 - Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
25 - Philip Marlowe, The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler, 1939
26 - Kurtz, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1902
27 - Stevens, The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989
28 - Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo, The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino, 1957
29 -Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, 1926
30 - Oskar Matzerath, The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass, 1959
31 - Hazel Motes, Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor, 1952
32 - Alex Portnoy, Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth, 1969
33 - Binx Bolling, The Moviegoer, Walker Percy, 1961
34 - Sebastian Flyte, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, 1945
35 - Jeeves, My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse, 1919
36 - Eugene Henderson, Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow, 1959
37 - Marcel, Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust, 1913-1927
38 - Toad, The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, 1908
39 - The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss, 1955
40 - Peter Pan, The Little White Bird, J.M. Barrie, 1902
41 - Augustus McCrae, Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry, 1985
42 - Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett, 1930
43 - Judge Holden, Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy, 1985
44 - Willie Stark, All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren, 1946
45 - Stephen Maturin, Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian, 1969
46 - The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943
47 - Santiago, The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, 1952
48 - Jean Brodie, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark, 1961
49 - The Whiskey Priest, The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene, 1940
50 - Neddy Merrill, The Swimmer, John Cheever, 1964
51 - Sula Peace, Sula, Toni Morrison, 1973
52 - Meursault, The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942
53 - Jake Barnes, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway, 1926
54 - Phoebe Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951
55 - Janie Crawford, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
56 - Antonia Shimerda, My Antonia, Willa Cather, 1918
57 - Grendel, Grendel, John Gardner, 1971
58 - Gulley Jimson, The Horse's Mouth, Joyce Cary, 1944
59 - Big Brother, 1984, George Orwell, 1949
60 - Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, 1955
61 - Seymour Glass, Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger, 1953
62 - Dean Moriarty, On the Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957
63 - Charlotte, Charlotte's Web, E.B. White, 1952
64 - T.S. Garp, The World According to Garp, John Irving, 1978
65 - Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett, 1934
66 - James Bond, Casino Royale, Ian Fleming, 1953
67 - Mr. Bridge, Mrs. Bridge, Evan S. Connell, 1959
68 - Geoffrey Firmin, Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry, 1947
69 - Benjy, The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner, 1929
70 - Charles Kinbote, Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov, 1962
71 - Mary Katherine Blackwood, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson, 1962
72 - Charles Ryder, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, 1945
73 - Claudine, Claudine at School, Colette, 1900
74 - Florentino Ariza, Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1985
75 - George Follansbee Babbitt, Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis, 1922
76 - Christopher Tietjens, Parade's End, Ford Madox Ford, 1924-28
77 - Frankie Addams, The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers, 1946
78 - The Dog of Tears, Blindness, Jose Saramago, 1995
79 - Tarzan, Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1914
80 - Nathan Zuckerman, My Life As a Man, Philip Roth, 1979
81 - Arthur "Boo" Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
82 - Henry Chinaski, Post Office, Charles Bukowski, 1971
83 - Joseph K. The Trial, Franz Kafka, 1925
84 - Yuri Zhivago, Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, 1957
85 - Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling, 1998
86 - Hana, The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje, 1992
87 - Margaret Schlegel, Howards End, E.M. Forster, 1910
88 - Jim Dixon, Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis, 1954
89 - Maurice Bendrix, The End of the Affair, Graham Greene, 1951
90 - Lennie Small, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck, 1937
91 - Mr. Biswas, A House for Mr. Biswas, V.S. Naipaul, 1961
92 - Alden Pyle, The Quiet American, Graham Greene, 1955
93 - Kimball "Kim" O'Hara, Kim, Rudyard Kipling, 1901
94 - Newland Archer, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, 1920
95 - Clyde Griffiths, An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser, 1925
96 - Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, 1926
97 - Quentin Compson, The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner, 1929
98 - Charlie Marlow, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1902
99 - Celie, The Color Purple, Alice Walker, 1982
100 - Augie March, The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow 1953


  1. I have many favorite characters but right now can't organize a list - though, I will say the characters that come to mind first (& most frequently) are those in E.F. Benson's Mapp & Lucia books, as well as the Provincial Lady. Those stand out the most.

  2. Thanks for the comment on my blog! I've read and loved quite a few of the books you mentioned in this post and in the sidebar, so I'll probably check out some of the others that you've mentioned. It's always fun to find someone else who's actually heard of your favorite books :)

  3. Oh Simon I must have a go at this and it will come as no surprise to you that I totally agree re Catcher in the Rye. talk about irritating!

  4. If I go back to childhood then two immediately spring to mind:
    Jo of Little Women
    and Jo of The Chalet School.
    Is it just a coincidence that my mother was also Jo and my best friend ever and someone who possessed the same rebellious streak.
    Oh, throw in Anne of Green Gables as well

  5. Hey, stop stealing Ruth! Here are my top ten - but not restricted to time and very much grounded in childhood:
    Jo (Little Women)
    Anne (...of Green Gables)
    Katy (What Katy Did..at School)
    Jane Eyre
    Lizzie Bennet
    Jean Benoit Aubery (Frenchman's Creek)
    Ratty (Wind in the Willows)
    Lucy (Narnia books)
    William Brown
    (No particular order - but the Frenchman crept in when I was 14!)

  6. Greetings Si from North Wales (where I have the privilege of a Reading Week - albeit theology rather than novels).
    I'm not sure you are too enamoured with the other two from the top 5 either - but Colin will be pleased to see Atticus Finch riding high.
    I apologise for the fact that your mother's counting isn't too good - I think there are only 9 entries in her top 10; and her sense of history has failed since I believe Lizzie Benett and Jane Eyre at least would struggle to get into a post 1900 list. Gatsby, Finch and Holmes would make the top 10.
    100 is a bit demanding; 10 is a bit tough.

  7. Yes, Dad, you're right - someone hasn't been paying attention to the 'since 1900' bit of the challenge! I'm afraid that also rules out Jo from Little Women.

  8. What a bizarre list indeed!

    Miss Pettigrew came to mind as did Angela Carter's Fevvers along with few already mentioned (the second Mrs De Winter, Cassandra Mortmain...)

  9. Rules are there to be broken. Jo & Jane & Lizzie have to be allowed on the list because of all the people who have read about them since 1900.
    I'm definitely siding with OVW against OV & SiaB on this. I very nearly put Katie on my list as well but thought it looked rather biased in one direction.

  10. I'll join Ruth & Mum in ignoring the post-1900 rule. Off the top of my head:

    1. Atticus Finch
    2. Bertie Wooster
    3. Henry Tilney
    4. Faile Aybara (Wheel of Time)
    5. Mr. Darcy
    6. Captain Hastings
    7. Mr Bennet
    8. Perrin Aybara (Wheel of Time again)
    9. Samwise Gamgee
    10. Hercule Poirot

  11. Hey - I did say that I had paid no heed to time.. but I hadn't noticed that I'd only chosen 9 (and I counted them twice! Maybe I counted the Frenchman as well as Jean Benoit!)
    So, anyway, I now have room to add Anne Elliot ("none so capable as Anne" - ah, it's good to see one's name in print!)
    Ruth, you are forgiven for stealing my choice and making mine seem like a copy. We gals must stick together!

  12. I have to do this too. What fun. My list will be different from yours, though. I like your Mum's -- lots of good childrens books there. Interesting that your bro has all men. Do men like men and ladies like ladies?

  13. Maybe! (Although I only have two men on mine, and one of them's a donkey). I suppose if you took a list from childhood, it's more likely to be the same gender as yourself. Oh, and though my Wheel of Time knowledge isn't brilliant, I *think* Faile is a woman?

  14. Simon - my list is now up over on Random. Pleased to see from comments that Jo in Little Women is a favourite and I have chosen mine irrespective of date I am afraid

  15. I am the first time visitor of a book blog, i had no idea there were so many! i liked ur blog and the topics.
    I like Howard Roark from Fountainhead and Hercule Poirot.

  16. I do notice that there are only 19 women on the original list, and many more women that commenters are suggesting. I think this is rather telling...


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