When I read another novel, it often sparks an idea for a thematic blog post that includes elements from that book mixed with similar elements from novels I’ve read in the past. It’s not always a “Eureka!” moment, but sometimes it is.
As was the case this past week. I’m currently reading Colleen McCullough for the first time — her riveting novel Morgan’s Run — and, about a quarter of the way through the 600-page book, I came across this line about 18th-century protagonist Richard Morgan: “He is six-and-thirty, and God is trying him as He tried Job.”
Eureka! That gave me the idea for a blog post about beleaguered characters who are hit with one gut-punch after another — whether it be deaths of loved ones, ill health, loss of jobs, unjust imprisonment, etc.
How do these characters deal with all that? Do they cope to some extent, or succumb to despair? Are the gut-punches partly their fault, or mainly instances of bad luck? Do things get better eventually — or never?
Basically, novels with this type of scenario can be heartbreaking or inspiring or some combination of the two. And we of course usually feel a great deal of sympathy for the beleaguered protagonists, unless they’re villainous.
To avoid spoilers, I won’t get specific about the travails of Robert Morgan as his life morphs from England to the early settling of white people in Australia, but that decent/moral/capable man is absolutely pummeled by life in a good chunk of the book by McCullough, who’s best known for The Thorn Birds.
Among the many other compelling novels in which the main characters don’t catch a break — until sometimes they do — are George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Emile Zola’s The Drinking Den, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Stephen King’s Rose Madder, and Martin Cruz’s Smith’s first Gorky Park sequel Polar Star, to name just a few.
Any novel you’d like to mention with beleaguered protagonists?
Note: I’ll be slower with my replies at times this week, but will reply eventually! 🙂
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 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about everything from a proposed nature trail to an overpriced new apartment building — is here.