A Big Convention of Unconventional Characters

What do many novels — great or otherwise — have in common? Words, sentences, paragraphs, and…unconventional protagonists.

Sure, there are some novels starring conformist characters, such as businessman George Babbitt of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt. But for that approach to truly work, the writing has to be outstanding — and perhaps satirical, too. Because conventional can obviously be boring, and offers a smaller canvas for the dramatic conflict most fiction needs.

Protagonists can of course be unconventional in all kinds of ways. There are the loners and/or the political rebels and/or the non-materialistic and/or the brilliant and/or the courageous and/or the jarringly evil and/or those ahead of their time and/or those possessing unusual skills and/or the people who avoid traditional gender roles and/or…etc.

There are so many unconventional characters in literature that I’ll mention/discuss only a couple dozen or so before asking for your examples.

I finished Steppenwolf last week, and its Harry Haller protagonist is definitely a misfit kind of guy. Divided personality (the human side and the supposed wolf side), very learned, keeps to himself (at least in the first part of the novel), despises conformity (yet craves a bit of it), looks down on popular culture, has pacifist views, etc. Indeed, Hermann Hesse’s gripping and at times hallucinatory novel is in part a meditation on whether a round peg like Harry can fit in the square hole of conventional life. Steppenwolf‘s Hermine character is also highly original: a lover of pleasure yet as despairing and as brainy as Harry. Indeed, the heavily symbolic book implies that Harry and Hermine are versions of each other.

One of the many reasons the Bronte sisters’ novels are so compelling is their unconventional protagonists. The title character of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is independent, self-reliant, highly principled, and has little interest in small talk, fine clothes, etc. Heathcliff and Catherine of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights are forces of nature who act much more tempestuously than the average person. Helen Huntington in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall does something few women did in her time when she leaves an abusive marriage.

A fictional Anne, the admirable Anne Elliot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, is about as level-headed and mature a person as one will meet in literature — and interesting to boot. She possesses even more depth than most of the other people in Austen’s memorable character gallery.

Jumping to later fiction of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, we have Hester Prynne, who maintains an almost unearthly dignity when unwed motherhood makes her a Puritan pariah in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850); the deeply unhappy, anti-establishment painter Claude Lantier in Emile Zola’s The Masterpiece (1886); and Lambert Strether, who allows himself to shed provincial Americanism when sent on a delicate mission to France in Henry James’ The Ambassadors (1903).

Also: Renee Nere, who insists on her own music hall career and questions the institution of marriage in Colette’s The Vagabond (1910); Ellen Olenska, who leads a somewhat bohemian life in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920); and Valancy Stirling, who thrillingly rebels against the narrow-minded expectations of her mother and extended family in L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle (1926).

Also: Joe Christmas, the wandering, mysterious, conflicted orphan in William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932); the unnamed, not-so-pious priest in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (1940); Winston Smith, who tries to buck the totalitarian tide in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949); and the unnamed narrator who lives an amazing and harrowing life in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952).

Also: Scout Finch, the Alabama tomboy who reads avidly and disdains dresses in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960); Molly Bolt, the fun and defiant young woman dealing with her lesbian identity and homophobia in Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (1973); the brainy, eccentric, obnoxious Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (1980); and the enamored, obsessed Florentino Ariza in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).

Also: Dr. Rowan Mayfair, the brilliant neurosurgeon with a troubled, supernatural family history in Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour (1990); Judy Carrier, the whip-smart, harried, insecure attorney in Lisa Scottoline’s The Vendetta Defense (2002); the gender-confused Cal/Calliope in Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (2002); the super-intelligent, understandably bitter computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005) and its sequels; and the quirky, delightful secretary Violet Brown in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna (2009).

Then there’s Mark Watney, whose ingenuity and humor make that stranded astronaut such a distinctive character in Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011), which I just finished reading. (More on that book next week.)

Who are your favorite unconventional protagonists or unconventional secondary characters in literature? And, if you’d like, you could mention novels that are compelling even with protagonists of the conformist, unimaginative, docile variety!

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

71 thoughts on “A Big Convention of Unconventional Characters

  1. I think there’s a huge array being covered here, including Cathy and Heathcliff who were most certainly not what one would call conventional. I’ll throw in Moll Flanders who w snot very conventional either, although the time the novel is set is ideal that way. Equally that does not necessarily mean that Defoe didn’t take a risk with that book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Morning Dave..Bela in Jhumpa Lahiri`s ” Low Land ” stands out as one unconventional character and stood alone in her own rights. Her character was also a rebel like her late father Udayan whom she never met an activist . While Udayan lost his way Bela stood firm in her own belief. Grew up thinking her uncle Subhash as her father who loved Bela as he loved no other. Abandoned at age five by her mother Gouri who left them without any forwarding address.

    Observing the hollow marriage of Subhash and Gouri she avoided any commitments instead formed a close relationship to the earth itself motivated by a deep need to educate and help others.

    Then the day came when she had a chance to meet her mother and what an magnificent encounter it was.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Man Bites Dog is a headline; dog bites man isn’t worth a footnote. Somehow, since the unremarkable seems to inhabit the lion’s share of our everyday existence, we would crave stranger stuff. Makes me think it would be much harder to write up somebody entirely ordinary and make it sing….and few try, as who would care? After all, Man Bites Dog,etc.

    But occasionally, characters can be created along such outlandish lines as to strain credulity, and patience– mine anyway. I refer, for example, to Harry Crews’ The Knockout Artist’s Eugene, a boxer whose real talent is his ability to knock himself out. I suspect author harry Crews intended this to symbolize something. His New Orleans party milieu, in which Eugene’s novelty act takes place is decadent and full of awful fallen types, and others. I felt the author was trying too hard, but the fault may lie in me, who could not accept such a boxer could exist, or would, anyplace or any time. But I haven’t seen this book for 30 years, and perhaps I’d look at things from another slant today.

    If anybody is a big Crews fan, I would be grateful to know which of his novels I might read so as to give him another chance at my affection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, jhNY — “The Knockout Artist” definitely sounds…unique. Yes, outlandish characters who do outlandish things might not be believable, but they are unconventional and can be memorable. Heck, Jack Reacher fits that category in a way. He doesn’t knock himself out, but he can polish off two, three, four, five, six toughs with his bare hands (along with some well-placed kicks, head-butts, etc.).


  4. Oh, I’ve been waiting to use this one since I began posting here. Jeff Lindsay’s ‘Darkly Dreaming Dexter,’ Dexter Morgan.

    Monsters are real, they don’t have claws, or fangs or stinky breath…well maybe their breath does stink. Dexter Morgan has an obsession with Monsters, yet he is one of them—a serial killer working for the Miami police, he wants only to feed that inner monster by killing other monsters.

    A classic anti-hero I suppose, if you read the book you’ll crave a little dark justice and a Cuban sandwich.

    I’ll return with a conformist character soon–these post are fun, they make one rattle the brain for that perfect fit—thanks for the post Dave.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jack, for the kind words and the VERY well-said comment!

      Dexter Morgan sounds like a terrifying character. Definitely a nonconformist, in the worst possible sense. And representative in a way, given the good (bad) number of nasty police officers who’ve killed innocent people (usually African-American men) in Chicago, Ferguson, on Staten Island, and so many other places.

      There’s also a long line of fictional law-enforcement men who have wrongly killed — in “The Grapes of Wrath,” Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things,” and many other novels.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. L.M. Montgomery created several unconventional characters in the Green Gables series. Captain Jim from Anne’s House of Dreams was a quirky fellow. No one could best him when it came to seafaring. Much to the dismay of his parents, he left school at the age of fifteen to become a sailor. Jim returned to Four Winds after decades at sea and took over the operations at the lighthouse.

    J.A. Harrison from Anne of Avonlea did not fit into the Green Gables community. He made it known that women were not welcome in his home. The house was dilapidated. There were no plants or gardens, no decorations, paint was peeled, dirty dishes stacked up outside the house (he didn’t wash dishes…he preferred to sit them outside and let the rain clean them naturally), no groceries in the kitchen, and layers of dirt on the furniture.

    But the kicker was his pet parrot named Ginger. Yes, the guy kept a parrot around the house. Harrison taught the pet how to curse and swear. The man was crude, his parrot was crude, and both were the talk of the town.

    Paul Irving appeared throughout the series. He was Anne’s favourite student because of his “old person’s ways” that set him apart from the other little boys. Paul was also the only child in town originally born in the U.S. He created an imaginary family called The Rock People. Anne saw herself in Paul, which is why she bonded with him so. If I’m remembering correctly, he grew up to become a wealthy, published poet. Anne was the only person to encourage his writing and imagination, and he attributed his success to her.

    And I know this is not related to AoGG, but I have to add Bartleby, the Scrivener. Can’t get any more unconventional than him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Ana — L.M. Montgomery created so many distinctive characters, female and male, human and animal. That loyal dog in “Rilla of Ingleside” was also amazing — waiting at the train station for years for his human to come home from WWI.

      J.A. Harrison! Who knew he had a wife in addition to a profane parrot?

      Yes, Bartleby is about as unconventional as they come. “I would prefer not to” doubt that. 🙂

      Great character descriptions!


      • Harrison was not married. His bachelorhood caused quite a stir with Marilla, Rachel Lynde, and the other ladies in town. He didn’t want to marry, discouraged all visitors (especially women), and based on the condition of the home, it was obvious that a woman hadn’t been in his life for a very long time.

        I just finished the Avonlea Chronicles. Take all of the quirky/unconventional/lovable/odd characters from AoGG and the Emily series, stick them in one collection, and there ya go.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Ana! Maybe I’m remembering wrong. Didn’t Harrison have a wife who appeared near the end of the novel? I might be mistakenly thinking of a different character, or maybe even a different “Anne” book! 🙂


            • Found it. Curiosity got the best of me, so I pulled down my copy from the shelf.

              J.A. Harrison and his wife Emily lived in New Brunswick. Emily left him because she was tired of his crude manners and that parrot. J.A. was always self-conscious. He felt that Emily was too good for him. She was a schoolteacher, came from a wealthy family, and was very neat….the total opposite of J.A.

              He left New Brunswick and moved to Prince Edward Island. Emily eventually went back to him so they could work on their marriage. He became a changed man after they reunited.

              So you’re right, Dave. 🙂

              Duty calls. Enjoy the rest of your day.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Oops — saw this comment after I replied to your previous comment. Glad you found that info out! Very nice summary of it. I had the advantage over you because I reread “Anne of Avonlea” relatively recently (sometime in 2015).

                Enjoy the rest of your day, too!


            • Nice homework assignment idea! That might be the only “Anne” novel I and my wife don’t own, but I’ll check our bookshelves. I use the “TR” system for shelving books — Totally Random. 🙂


  6. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are your favorite unconventional protagonists or unconventional secondary characters in literature? —

    “I’ve got a million of ’em,” in the words of the especially imitable Jimmy Durante. However, the titular character of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” appears to have elbowed his/her way to the head of the long line boarding this train of thought: I suspect it happened because the Blizzard of ’16 over the weekend led the appearance of the Hudson River to remind me of the Little Ice Age in general and the River Thames frost fairs in particular, which play a role in the novel’s plotline. (Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Me, ’cause her work sends shivers up and down my spine, OK on summer days, but Not-OK on winter nights, what with Jack Frost nipping at one’s nose and all, even though there is apparently no truth to the rumor that this sort of thing had anything to do with the demise of The Great Schnozzola.)

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all, J.J., thanks again for recommending “Steppenwolf”! A memorable novel.

      Second of all, thanks for the VERY enjoyable comment — including its VERY appropriate Jimmy Durante quote! There ARE so many novels with unconventional protagonists that one does wonder where to begin. “Orlando” is an outstanding example — sort of in the “Middlesex” gender-ambiguity category, but Virginia Woolf’s book obviously predated Jeffrey Eugenides’ by many decades.


      • — [T]hanks again for recommending “Steppenwolf”! —

        My pleasure. When it comes to opinion, I’m full of it.

        — A memorable novel. —

        Indeed. It is therefore unlike the same author’s “Beneath the Wheel,” about which I remember exactly nada, as defined so well by the older waiter in Ernest Hemingway’s masterly “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”: “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.”

        — “Orlando” is an outstanding example — sort of in the “Middlesex” gender-ambiguity category —

        Well, one component of the titular character’s unconventionality is his/her gender-bender quality, but another is his/her longevity, which covers explicitly hundreds of years and implicitly a great many more, thus raising the cross-genre question: Were he/she and Robert A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long contemporaries not for a century but for a millennium (or longer)?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting how some novels stick in our brains and others mostly disappear from memory. I have a feeling I’ll also remember “Steppenwolf” for a long time. And I have never forgotten that Hemingway short story, which I read in college, I think.

          I guess “Orlando” was partly science fiction in a way! Given that sci-fi is my next topic (Jan. 31), I’m going to put “Orlando” in that column (which is written, but my computer seems to have a cursor to add things. 🙂 )

          Great question re Lazarus Long, who seems to have had an appropriate last name…


        • Guess I’m gratified you mentioned the frost fair on the Thames in Orlando, as, looking back over the three decades since I read the book, it’s the only scene that vividly comes to mind– which I know says more about my mind than the book.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Howdy, jhNY!

            — Guess I’m gratified you mentioned the frost fair on the Thames in Orlando, as, looking back over the three decades since I read the book, it’s the only scene that vividly comes to mind —

            If Virginia Woolf had not penned, “The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands,” then would I have been compelled to learn the River Thames frost fairs were actually a thing? I doubt it.

            If the author had not reported, “Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground,” then would I have been driven to learn of the Little Ice Age’s also-deadly effect on my Viking progenitors’ hamlets in Greenland? Nope.

            And if she had not written, “At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner,” then would I have been obliged to learn (only somewhat obliquely) why in terms of their alcoholic preferences Northern Europeans settled mostly on beer and Southern Europeans settled mostly on wine? Unh-unh.

            So I agree completely: Especially when read at another time of rapid climate change, the passages about Orlando, Princess Marousha Stanilovska Dagmar Natasha Iliana Romanovitch and the frost fair are as vivid as anything in the book, flash-frozen in memory like so many bare toes in the heavenly snows of Hell’s Kitchen.


            Liked by 1 person

            • Greetings, JJ!

              What a lovely reply!

              I had seen, previously, somebody’s painting or print of a frost fair on the Thames, so the scene was not entirely unknown to me. Just looked up “great frost fair thames” on yahoo images, and there are many (they held them whenever the river froze for some centuries), none of which leaps out to me today as the image I’d seen. Interested readers might search by that phrase, and see a number of depictions for themselves.

              Wolfe’s description of the cold’s effects on the Norwich woman remind me of a vignette in Ron Hansen’s short story Wickedness concerning the Blizzard of ’88 (1888)– A man was found frozen solid in the aftermath with one leg in the stirrup, one hand on his saddle’s pommel,fixed in ice in the act of mounting. His horse was frozen too.

              Liked by 1 person

              • — Wolfe’s description of the cold’s effects on the Norwich woman remind me of a vignette in Ron Hansen’s short story Wickedness concerning the Blizzard of ’88 (1888) —

                I have not read that chilling account, but Sweet Adeline (as we have dubbed the author here in the Kitchen) told a similar tale in “Orlando”: “It was no uncommon sight to come upon a whole herd of swine frozen immovable upon the road. The fields were full of shepherds, ploughmen, teams of horses, and little bird-scaring boys all struck stark in the act of the moment, one with his hand to his nose, another with the bottle to his lips, a third with a stone raised to throw at the ravens who sat, as if stuffed, upon the hedge within a yard of him.”

                Liked by 1 person

        • “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.”

          There’s Fugs song by the great Tuli Kupferberg that may draw from the bottomless depths of this sentiment: “Nothing”:

          Monday, nothing
          Tuesday, nothing
          Wednesday and Thursday nothing
          Friday, for a change
          a little more nothing
          Saturday once more nothing
          Sunday nothing
          Monday nothing
          Tuesday and Wednesday nothing
          Thursday, for a change
          a little more nothing
          Friday once more nothing
          Montik gornisht,
          Dinstik Gornisht
          Midwoch an Donnerstik gornisht
          Fritik, far a noveneh gornisht pikveleh
          Shabas nach a mool gornisht
          Lunes nada
          Martes nada
          Miercoles y Jueves nada
          Viernes, por cambia
          un poco mas nada
          Sabado otra vez nada
          January nothing
          February nothing
          March and April nothing
          May and June
          a lot more nothing
          July nothing
          ’29 nothing
          ’32 nothing
          ’39, ’45 nothing
          1965 a whole lot of nothing
          1966 nothing
          reading nothing
          writing nothing
          even arithmetic nothing
          geography, philosophy, history, nothing
          social anthropology a lot of nothing
          oh, Village Voice nothing
          New Yorker nothing
          Sing Out and Folkways nothing
          Harry Smith and Allen Ginsberg
          nothing, nothing, nothing
          poetry nothing
          music nothing
          painting and dancing nothing
          The world’s great books
          a great set of nothing
          Audy and Foudy nothing
          fucking nothing
          sucking nothing
          flesh and sex nothing
          Church and Times Square
          all a lot of nothing
          nothing, nothing, nothing
          Stevenson nothing
          Humphrey nothing
          Averell Harriman nothing
          John Stuart Mill nil, nil
          Franklin Delano nothing
          Karlos Marx nothing
          Engels nothing
          Bakunin and Kropotkin nothing
          Leon Trotsky lots of nothing
          Stalin less than nothing
          nothing nothing nothing nothing
          lots and lots of nothing
          nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing
          lots of it
          Not a God damn thing

          The melody, borrowed, I believe, from a Russian dirge.

          Liked by 1 person

          • — There’s Fugs song by the great Tuli Kupferberg that may draw from the bottomless depths of this sentiment: “Nothing” —

            But the percussion is something:

            Liked by 1 person

            • Blame it on my youth, but The Fugs (a literary reference, natch– see Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead) first lp is always in my top 100. It was big news in 1960’s Nashville, among the disaffected layabouts with whom I hung.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Dave, I will always agree with you when you mention my favorite heroine from Jane Austen’s books — Anne Elliot is probably my favorite character from her novels. I do adore Elizabeth Bennet, but Anne is older and therefore more mature than any of her other heroines. I did read “Steppenwolf” back in the early 70’s but for the life of me, I can’t remember anything about it. I think I’ve come to realize that if I don’t read a book at least twice I won’t remember; pretty much how I feel about movies. BTW, I’m looking forward to your article next week on “The Martian,” a book I started recently and enjoyed, but haven’t got to the middle or ending of. I know that my sister loved the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lib! Yes, Anne Elliot is my favorite Jane Austen protagonist, too. Some of Austen’s secondary characters might be more “fun” — in a good or annoying way — but they aren’t…Anne. 🙂

      I hear you about not remembering much from books we read decades ago. There are some exceptions, but, as you say, it usually takes a rereading or two or three for a novel to be truly engraved in one’s mind as one’s mind continues to be filled with more and more novels.

      My Jan. 31 column will be about the sci-fi genre in general, but “The Martian” will be prominently mentioned — along with another exceptional sci-fi book I’m now reading: Octavia E. Butler’s “Kindred,” recommended by commenter Ana.

      By the way, not sure if you saw the comment I left for you under my previous column, but I finally took out a P.D. James mystery — “The Lighthouse” — from the library, and will be reading it in February. 🙂


  8. I can’t believe you didn’t mention the one-of-a-kind bee charmer Idgie Threadgoode from “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”! She thumbed her nose at conventionality during a time where it was unthinkable, and she didn’t give a flip about what people thought of her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you Flagg-ed that, lulabelle. 🙂

      But, seriously, VERY well said — and a major omission on my part. Idgie was so wonderful and quirky — and was a lesbian in a time and place where it wasn’t easy to be “different.”

      And Fannie Flagg’s novel is a tremendous book overall. At least I mentioned it two weeks ago as a modern masterpiece. 🙂 https://daveastoronliterature.com/2016/01/10/the-goldfinch-and-other-modern-masterpieces/

      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I also thought about Doc from “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday”. He was an amazing man, extremely intelligent and quirky. He kept company with a cast of quirky characters. If I remember correctly, he stocked up on beer mixed with milk before going on a road trip?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Another exceptional character, lulabelle, and you described him very accurately!

          As you know, John Steinbeck partly based Doc on his friend Ed Ricketts. I wonder how many unconventional characters in lit were semi-autobiographical depictions of real people? For instance, Renee Nere in “The Vagabond” (mentioned in my column) resembled the book’s author, Colette, in a lot of ways.

          I had forgotten about that beer/milk concoction. From Molson’s to Mooson’s?

          Liked by 1 person

              • The Steinbeck/Ricketts boat named the Western Flyer is a sight to behold. I was overwhelmed by its actual size. Since their boat made repeated trips from Alaska and up and down the Pacific Coast, I didn’t expect it to be a small Huck Finn-style raft, but didn’t think it would be as big as it was either.

                The high school in the city where the Western Flyer is located created a sort of John Steinbeck program. It is a collaboration between the English/Literature and science departments. The students read Steinbeck material with nautical themes and elements (The Pearl, Sea of Cortez, Cannery Row, etc) and include field trips to the boat to take photos and learn more about marine life.

                I am so glad the Western Flyer will remain here in Washington state. It is definitely a must-see not just for Steinbeck fans, but for anyone with interests in biology, sea life, and natural history.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ana, so great you got to see that (bigger than expected) boat — and that the local high school has a John Steinbeck program of sorts! I first read Steinbeck in high school, and am very glad I did.

                  Very glad I read your excellent comment, too. 🙂


          • Forty years ago plus, I knew a man who booked Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, blues performers into his NC nightclub. Between sets, they requested pitchers of gin and milk. It seems one of the duo had an ulcer…so they both suffered.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Gin and milk — wow! I have a vague memory that the milk-helping-ulcers theory has been debunked, but of course that was long after Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee took that “cure.”


            • Are you familiar with Big Mama Thornton? She recorded with Muddy Waters and his band in the late 60s.

              The owner of a Montreal jazz club (I can’t recall his name) once booked her and BB King to open for another band. He claimed that gin and milk was Big Mama’s go-to drink. And it got to the point when clubs automatically made her batches of gin and milk after her performances because that’s all she would drink.

              Seems like that concoction was quite popular back in the day…

              Liked by 1 person

              • I am familiar, and once owned a 78 of Hound Dog as by her in the Peacock label– gave it to a musician pal who loved the song in its original incarnation. It was one of the first, if not the first chart hit for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Thornton attempted, years later, to have her own name added to the writing credits, but when questioned by copyright lawyers as to what exactly her original contributions were, she could point only to the howling sounds she made at the recording’s end…. wonderful song stylist, and evidently, quite the character in many ways.

                Gin and milk will always be a mystery to me– I had to drink milk thrice daily till I reached my teen years, after which, I have not allowed it past my lips knowingly ever, except in college, and then only occasionally and always in its chocolate manifestation. Gin on the other hand, when employed as an ingredient of the colonialist’s consolation– a gin and tonic– is a fine healthful drink. The lime banishes scurvy, the quinine prevents malaria, and gin in reasonable amounts can quell, if only for a while, personal depression, and the sorrows of lost empire.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Wasn’t she an incredible singer?! Her deep, raspy vocals were soul-stirring. She knew how to work a harmonica too. It is disgraceful how so many great artists of her caliber were ripped off by the industry. No credits, no royalties, shady/questionable recording contracts, and most ended up in poverty as the music industry passed them by.

                  I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to try gin and milk. Gin? Yes. Milk? Yes. Both together? No.

                  Thanks, jh. I figured you’d know who Big Mama was.

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                  • She was an incredible singer, and I too decry ” how so many great artists of her caliber were ripped off by the industry. No credits, no royalties, shady/questionable recording contracts”. But in the instance I cited, I think Thornton was reaching for credit where it was not due. Leiber and Stoller needed no help in writing songs, nor later, in producing records.

                    I worked for a major r+b label for some years, and as archivist there, had access to the documentation of its earliest days. In the beginning, neither artists nor label owners had any idea of the eventual size and worth of the record business both would do so much to make succeed. The corporate office was a rented office space above an Italian restaurant, and room was so scarce that they moved the desks to the walls at night, set up their recording equipment and worked till they got a master. Then in the morning, the equipment was moved out, and the desks were pushed back to their daytime places. Deals were signed over those desks by young people who did not know very much about what they were doing– on both sides of the desk. I do think it’s fair to say that the label folks did much better, especially over time, than the artists they signed. But those deals which tied the artists to long-term contracts were made, in the early days, before anybody knew there’d be any long-term profit to be had. Later, the r+b label I worked for retroactively and voluntarily increased the share of artist royalties from what they were contractually obligated to pay. I do believe generally that musicians and song writers and singers have been badly used by all parts of the entertainment industry, but it’s complicated, at least a bit, my belief, by what I wrote above.

                    Liked by 1 person

  9. “Ethan Frome “by Edith Wharton. A protagonist who was cripple would be an unlikely main character. Also, Miss Havisham in Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” She was an eerie presence,spooky yet ethereal,mentally unstable,those characters always make books more compelling as they are unconventional and under represented.

    Hope you did ok with digging out snow for the first major snow storm on eastern seaboard in 2016.⛄ Lets hope for a long lull, then spring.

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    • Two GREAT examples, Michele! Ethan Frome is an unforgettable character: dour, bitter, stoic, yet likable — and someone who might have had some happiness with a little better decision-making and luck. Also, excellent description by you of Miss Havisham!

      I’m luckier that most after a snowstorm because I now live in an apartment complex where the shoveling is done for the tenants, and I pay for my car to be parked in the complex garage. After 21 years of homeowner shoveling, I’m relieved. I hope digging out wasn’t too arduous for you.

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  10. Hey Dave, your mention of the Harry and Hermione characters in ‘Steppenwolf’ made me wonder if J.K. Rowling had named HER Harry and Hermione with that in mind (?). Just a thought.

    I was going to name Strether in ‘The Ambassadors’ but you beat me to it. I was going to name the ‘invisible man’ in Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ but you beat me to it.

    I would also add Binx Bolling in Walker Percy’s ‘The Moviegoer’. Binx’s ‘world view’ is what makes that novel so fascinating. His wonder and revelry in the most mundane aspects of life i.e. a chance meeting with Bill Holden, the act of moviegoing, his entire theory of ‘repetitons and rotations’. He is a true eccentric wearing the costume of the flannel suit establishment man.

    And, when I think of Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ I also think of that other nameless narrator, Dostoeveky’s ‘underground man’ of ‘Notes from the Underground’. What a misanthrope! And yet he has such an energetic,propulsive intensity that you’re caught in the wave of his rage. Of course, Dostoevsky created several unique characters. Makes me wonder if many Russians in the 19th century were as highly strung and intense as Fyodor Dostoevsky or were all these characters just projections of his own brilliant, unique psyche?

    Bill mentioned Kilgore Trout in Kurt Vonnegut’s books but I would contend that in just about all of Kurt’s novels, the authorial perception of Kurt Vonnegut permeates all of his characters in a similar way as Percy’s Binx Bolling. It’s like Kurt is the Binx Bolling of all of his novels.

    A similar case of author as main character is Richard Brautigan. This feeling is helped by most of his ‘novels’ if you can call them that being first person narratives, with the narrator being a Richard Brautigan surrogate. That unique perspective saturates his books as much as Kurt Vonnegut’s.

    Guess that’s enough examples for now.

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    • VERY interesting theory about Harry/Hermine and Harry/Hermione, bobess48! Would love to ask that of J.K. Rowling! I know she named her Mrs. Norris cat in the “Harry Pottter” series after Mrs. Norris of Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park.” 🙂

      Dostoyevsky did indeed create so many memorable, unconventional characters — some of whom were VERY “highly strung and intense.” Raskolnikov of “Crime and Punishment,” a couple of the Karamazovs, etc. I had been mentioning Dostoyevsky so often lately that I decided to keep him out of my blog post this time.

      Binx Bolling is definitely a quirky character — as you put so wonderfully, “a true eccentric wearing the costume of the flannel suit establishment man.”

      With some authors sort of (disguised) main characters in a number of novels, it’s nice to know that a lot of authors are unconventional. 🙂 Heck, just entering that “profession” makes a person different than “the average bear.”

      I appreciate the elegantly phrased thoughts!

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      • I think if most of an author’s works are first person narratives as in the case of Vonnegut and Brautigan, the tendency to equate the narrator with the author is more likely. Of course, there are those fictional non-fiction works by Mark Twain and Herman Melville, in which the narrator is pretty obviously Twain and Melville, although an ‘enhanced’ version of that author.

        Finally, to bring up a few fairly repellent characters, there’s Rabbit Angstrom of John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ novels who is pretty self-centered throughout the series although he does evolve and he does attempt to think of other people than himself as I recall.

        One who doesn’t think of anyone else is that iconoclastic Allie Fox of Paul Theroux’s ‘The Mosquito Coast’. He is determined to build a ‘new Eden’ in the wild even if he takes his entire family down the toilet with him.

        Those characters aren’t admirable by any stretch of the imagination although, like car crashes, we’re intrigued by them nonetheless. At least I am.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, negative characters can be sickeningly, intriguingly unconventional. Allie Fox was indeed mostly gruesome, and Rabbit Angstrom was indeed VERY unlikable (at least in “Rabbit, Run” — the only Rabbit book I’ve read).

          You’re also right that an author can put a somewhat-autobiographical protagonist in the form of a narrator or in the form of a character who’s a narrator surrogate.


    • “Makes me wonder if many Russians in the 19th century were as highly strung and intense as Fyodor Dostoevsky or were all these characters just projections of his own brilliant, unique psyche?”

      See Gogol for the answer. Also Lermontov. Also Pushkin.

      Liked by 1 person

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