My friend Eve had some great suggestions: "As for fiction -- hmm -- let’s start by giving Dorothea Brooke a do-over. . . . How about Mrs. Hawkins, the narrator of A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark? She is a perennial personal favorite of mine. If you don’t know her, you must meet her soon as possible."
Eve also suggested Molly and Leopold Bloom, which made me think that the little unnamed narrator from "Araby," so earnest in his devotion, should also be included. We also gave a "Thumbs up for both Mrs. Ramsay and Mrs. Dalloway!"
I'm voted for Nick, as in -- "You can't repeat the past" -- Carraway, and for Jay -- "Why of course you can" -- Gatsby. Impassioned Gatsby, with his dreams and his good intentions -- would he fare better in the real world than he did in fiction? Perhaps only a fictional character can believe in repeating the past.
In more recent reading, I might nominate:
1. the two little sisters Willa and Bird from
The Truth According to Us
by Annie Barrows
In their innocence, they struggle to understand the dis - connect
between history and reality, between fiction and non - fiction:
Bird: That's awful . . . I wanted a happy ending.
It's history, Jottie reminded her.
You don't get what you want.
Reality is always so bleak, Mae sighed. (108)
Willa: In books . . . things were connected; people did something and then something else happened because of that. I could understand them. But outside, here in the real world, things seemed to happen for no reason that I could see. Maybe there was no reason. Maybe people just drifted here and there, aimless and silly. . . . there must be something to know, reasons, all the time and everywhere, for the way they behaved. Reasons I couldn't see yet, no matter how hard I tried. I had always hoped that Jottie would call me into her room and tell me the secret, the thing I needed to know to understand people did the things they did. So far she hadn't. When she called me into her room to explain where babies came from, I thought I was about to get wind of something good, but I was disappointed. What I wanted was bigger, a giant blanket that would hold the world. I had become ferocious and devoted so I could learn the secret truths, but I still didn't know them. (374)
Aunt Jottie: And Willa, she's something else. Smart as a whip, but she takes things hard, you know? She struggles. By herself, too; she doesn't ask for help. She wants to understand everything, wants to make sense of things and God knows, plenty of things don't make much sense --" (388)
2. And how about Theo and Boris from
by Donna Tartt
Are they worthy of "real" life?
I guess we'll know soon enough, because the
movie adaptation is going to be here in no time!
From such a dense novel, I have culled these
lovely descriptions of the painting itself and the
message it carries from past to present to future:
Steadily the goldfinch gazed at me, with shiny, changeless eyes. The wooden panel was tiny . . . When I looked at the painting I felt the same convergence on a single point: a flickering sun-struck instant that existed now and forever. Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch’s ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature — fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place. (305-06)
There’s only a tiny heartbeat and solitude, bright sunny wall and a sense of no escape. Time that doesn’t move, time that couldn’t be called time. And trapped in the heart of light: the little prisoner, unflinching. Time that doesn't move, time that couldn't be called time. And trapped in the heart of light: the little prisoner, unflinching. . . . And, in this staunch little portrait, it's not hard to see the human in the finch. Dignified, vulnerable. One prisoner looking at another. . . . The bird looks out at us. It's not idealized or humanized. It's very much a bird. Watchful, resigned. There's no moral or story. There's no resolution. There's only a double abyss: between painter and imprisoned bird; between the record he left of the bird and our experience of it, centuries later. . . . Across those unbridgeable distances—between bird and painter, painting and viewer — I hear only too well what’s being said to me . . . across four hundred years of time . . . It’s there in the light-rinsed atmosphere, the brush strokes . . . the slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint and yet also feather and bone. It’s the place where reality strikes the ideal, where a joke becomes serious and anything serious is a joke. The magic point where every idea and its opposite are equally true. (766)
And I’m hoping there’s some larger truth about suffering here, or at least my understanding of it . . . Because -- what if that particular goldfinch (and it is very particular) had never been captured or born into captivity, displayed in some household where the painter Fabritius was able to see it? It can never have understood why it was forced to live in such misery: bewildered by noise (as I imagine), distressed by smoke, barking dogs, cooking smells, teased by drunkards and children, tethered to fly on the shortest of chains. Yet even a child can see its dignity; thimble of bravery, all fluff and brittle bone. Not timid, not even hopeless, but steady and holding its place. Refusing to pull back from the world. (767)
by Carel Fabritius ~ 1622 – 1654