Looking back at this past year in literature, The New Yorker reminded me of a series they ran about likability in fiction. Author Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs about an angry and frustrated schoolteacher, was asked by Publishers Weekly whether she would want to be friends with her protagonist. She later declared the question to be gendered, leading the New Yorker to ask various authors about the importance–of lack thereof–of likable characters.
This has led me in turn to come up with a top ten list of the characters I like the best. I don’t necessarily find these characters to be the most interesting. For instance, Emma I find to be the most interesting of all Austen heroines but I don’t like her the way I do Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot.
I’m aware that my selections reveal a lot about me. I suspect that this top ten list might vary more widely than most since likability is so subjective. Feel free to send in your own candidates.
Here they are, in no particular order of likability:
1. I need a coin toss to choose between Elizabeth Bennett and Anne Elliot (in Persuasion). On the one hand, I love Elizabeth’s wit. On the other, I appreciate Anne’s depth of soul and the profound way that she talks about books.
2. I’ve always loved Prue Sarn in Mary Webb’s 1924 novel Precious Bane, a wonderful woman who is ostracized because of her harelip. Kester, the man she ends up with, is pretty wonderful as well.
3. Alyosha Karamazov is way up there for me. Maybe #1.
4. I’m also very fond of Tom Jones for his love of life and his generous spirit.
5. Viola from Twelfth Night is a wondrous soul, willing to open herself to a variety of alien experiences.
6. Esther Summersom from Bleak House is a dear nurturing woman.
7. Casey from Grapes of Wrath is the man I would most want for my pastor.
8. Kitty Levin from Anna Karenina astounds both her husband and the reader as she steps into wifehood.
9. Dorothea from Middlemarch is a bit aggravating at first but I love what she grows into.
10. And finally, I can understand why the death of Mrs. Ramsay shatters the household in To the Lighthouse. I am in love with her as well.
Send in your own selections for “most likable.”