The inspiration for today’s somewhat fun post, came from something more serious, Kim Scott’s Ray Mathew lecture that I attended last week. As I was waiting in the National Library’s gorgeous theatre waiting for the lecture to start, I found myself thinking about Bobby in Scott’s novel That deadman dance. What I realised was that Bobby is still vivid in my mind, years after I read the book – and I started to think about other similarly vivid characters…
Because, I don’t know about you, but I have read many books over the years. Some have been forgotten, some I remember generally, and some in more detail for one reason or another. Those reasons can vary – they can be the emotion that was engendered in me, or the ideas the book inspired me to think about, or the language delighted me, or, even, the plot surprised me, but there’s only a few for which that reason is very specifically a character. I thought it would be fun to share those – and for you to share back. Of course, as this is my Australian literature post, I’ll be focusing on Aussie books only. In other words, you won’t find Darcy or Elizabeth here! You, though, don’t have to be similarly constrained, so go for it. Bring out your Atticus Finches and Emma Bovarys. Let’s see what happens.
I have another proviso for this post, besides my characters having to be from Australian books, and that’s that I have to have read the books at least five years ago. Otherwise, I’m not sure I could say they’ve stood the test of time. My earliest favourite character comes from my pre-teen reading.
I noticed something interesting as I was compiling this list: not only do the characters vary in terms of age, gender, role/position, etc., they also fall into types like “my favourite pioneer character” or “child character” and so on. There’s very little duplication of these categories.
I am a bit nervous about this post, because I know I’ll omit some memorable characters that have slipped my mind (briefly!), exposing my shallowness, but I’ve decided to screw my courage to the you know what, and jump in. Oh, and one final point before I do: while these characters come from books I’ve loved, those books won’t necessarily be among my top books, particularly now, years later (though some will be).
So, here is my list, presented alphabetically by the character’s first name!
- Bobby Wabalanginy, from Kim Scott’s That deadman dance (published 2010, read and reviewed 2011) is a luminous, unforgettable First Contact character whose generosity of spirit is knocked back again and again by the colonial settlers. He represents all that could have been good and positive in our first indigenous-settler relationships in this country.
We thought making friends was the best thing, and never knew that when we took your flour and sugar and tea and blankets that we’d lose everything of ours. We learned your words and songs and stories, and never knew you didn’t want to hear ours.
- The drover’s wife, from Henry Lawson’s short story “The drover’s wife”. As far as I remember, she doesn’t have a name, but stands for the archetypal 19th century pioneer woman who had to face the terrors of the bush alone while her husband was, well, droving. She, like the rest of her ilk, had to become “used to the loneliness”.
- Joe Harman and Jean Paget, from Nevil Shute’s A town like Alice, survived much, particularly being POWs during World War 2, before finally realising their love for each other. Yes, they are my favourite romantic couple from my adolescence, and I had to share them here.
- Judy Woolcot, from Ethel Turner’s Seven little Australians, is, in a way, Australia’s version of America’s Beth (from Louisa May Alcott’s Little women). She’s the tragic character of our childhood. However, where Beth was a sweet town-living girl, Judy was a courageous, feisty tomboy from the bush.
- Sybylla Melvyn, from Miles Franklin’s My brilliant career, has to be in the list of any Aussie female reader. How can she not be, with her independent spirit and her refusal to let a handsome, wealthy man distract her from her dream of a “brilliant career”.
- Voss, from Patrick White’s Voss, was inspired by Prussian explorer Ludwig Leichhardt and his expedition into the Australian outback in the 1840s. He’s tragic, mythic, romantic, and I first fell for him, and thus also for Patrick White, in my teens.
- Weekly, from Elizabeth Jolley’s The newspaper of Claremont St, is a working class woman, a cleaner in fact (hence her “name”). She works steadily towards a dream that she will not give up, not for any anything.
And I think I’ll leave it there. I could go into families – like Tim Winton’s Lambs and Pickles (Cloudstreet) and Ruth Park’s Darcys (The harp in the south) but that would be diluting the theme which I don’t want to do. I’m aware that this is not at all representative of my favourite authors, but that’s because I love them for other reasons.
And now, over to you. Who are your most memorable characters?