With libraries shuttered during the pandemic, fictional characters in those book-filled buildings are bored enough to be doing some interesting things the public is not seeing. I’m going to give you some examples, based on reports I received from private investigators Kinsey Millhone (of Sue Grafton’s “alphabet mysteries”) and Easy Rawlins (of the Walter Mosley novels that often have a color in their titles). In return for the inside info from those sleuths, I purchased their co-authored thriller D Is For Devil in a Blue Dress.
Anyway, in my town’s closed-since-mid-March library (pictured above), Jane Eyre steps out from between the covers of Charlotte Bronte’s novel and discovers a “madwoman” roaming the building’s top floor. Turns out to be the Harry Potter witch Bellatrix Lestrange, who zaps gentle Beth March of Little Women with her wand. Middlemarch‘s Dr. Lydgate treats Beth via a Zoom “telehealth” appointment so they can maintain social distancing. Ove from Fredrik Backman’s novel likes the social-distancing thing.
Meanwhile, Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter receives remote instruction from a local university on a library computer, and changes to an outfit embroidered with a “B” after not quite acing a test. Anna Karenina also has some difficulties when she throws herself under a toy train in the children’s-book section. But the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude are pleased, figuring a few months of pandemic aloneness in the fiction section is better than a century of it.
Then Alice returns to the library’s shelves from her adventures in Wonderland and is asked if she’s “Still Alice” by the Howland family of Lisa Genova’s Alzheimer’s-themed novel. Kate Quinn’s young-woman protagonist Charlie St. Clair films it all for The Alice Network.
Don Quixote tilts at a rotating fan in the library director’s office. Huck Finn and Jim put their raft in the water, but can’t get far atop the drinking fountain next to the men’s room. Captain Ahab searches every floor for Moby-Dick, aka “The Great White Whale,” but only finds a large bottle of “Wite-Out” behind the checkout desk. (Queequeg harpoons it.)
Speaking of the checkout desk, miserly fictional dad Felix Grandet refuses to pay a fine after returning Eugenie Grandet several weeks late. “Old Goriot is a better Balzac book,” he huffs.
Sully from Nobody’s Fool decides to put his handyman skills to work by tightening a loose display case, but Flora and Miles of The Turn of the Screw push him away. “Henry James trained us to do that,” they say.
Former stockbroker Charles Strickland leaves the pages of The Moon and Sixpence to show off his Gauguin-like artistic prowess, but ends up only painting the bannisters between library floors. The Poisonwood Bible missionary Nathan Price tries to convert those drying bannisters to Christianity. Death Comes for the Archbishop when he inhales paint fumes.
On a happier note, Proust’s characters from In Search of Lost Time successfully find that newsweekly in the library’s magazine racks.
Dorothy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz returns to the farm, only it’s a LEGO pasture in the aforementioned children’s section. Fortunately, she doesn’t join the cast of War and Peace — avoiding the need to repeatedly say “There’s no place like tome.”
As noted, fictional characters are feeling rather bored and unhappy with no people visiting the library. So when Lily Bart dubs the book-filled building The House of Mirth, she is shushed. Seems the ill-fated Lily can’t catch a break.
Would you like to add any scenarios of fictional characters acting out in empty libraries?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about an educational war of words connected with my town’s upcoming election — is here.