I have been thinking about ‘charm’ in literary characters. I think this is, of almost all qualities, the hardest for an author to portray. It is easy to state that a character is charming, but to actually show that charm in action is a very different thing.
Charm is defined as “the power or quality of delighting, attracting, or fascinating others”. We can see some characters charming other characters, but what interests me today is which characters charm the socks off the reader.
We love characters for different reasons – Anne Elliot is admirable and lovable, Dorothea Brooke is moral and good, Jane Eyre is strong and resilient, Becky Sharp and Scarlett O’Hara are feisty and independent, but I don’t feel that any of them charm me. It has been said (and I must admit I cannot remember who said it) that there are only two utterly charming heroines in literature – Natasha Rostova from War and Peace and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I love reading about Natasha, but she starts to bore me when she settles down with Pierre and discusses dirty nappies with him (I will always regret that she does not end up with Prince Andre), so I award ‘Top Prize in Charm’ to Elizabeth Bennet. Jane Austen never once tells us that Elizabeth is charming – she just shows that charm in action on every page. No wonder Robert Louis Stevenson wanted to fall to his knees and worship Elizabeth every time she speaks.
Charm in male characters is perhaps even harder to pin down. A google search brings up some astonishing suggestions – Dorian Grey, Count Dracula and Jay Gatsby. James Bond also makes one list. I think Rhett Butler has charm, and Scarlett feels it even when she doesn’t want to, but perhaps with male characters it’s more a matter of charisma or sex appeal – a search for fictional men with charm brings up such words as ‘brooding’, ‘hot’ and ‘dangerous’. I’d be interested to hear from male readers of this newsletter which characters of your own sex you feel display charm.
When it was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, my way of paying tribute to her novels was to write a little memoir, showing just how reading Jane Austen had changed my life. This memoir, Jane & I: A Tale of Austen Addiction, is now available for Kindle. See links below.
So … is Elizabeth Bennet the only truly charming heroine in literature, or do you have other suggestions for me? And can you add more male names to my so-far list of only one? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.