This week’s question is suggested by (blogless) JMutford:
Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?This question depends a lot on your tolerance for eccentricity. One drag queen's eccentric is another person's soccer mom - you know what I mean? Also the flagrantly normal rarely make interesting subjects for novels, not those I read, at any rate. But, let's see, some memorable eccentrics. I'll start with the obvious:
Alma in Tennessee Williams' Eccentricities of a Nightingale - a more compelling and touching eccentric would be difficult to find. In fact, Williams was pretty much a master of this category - Laura in Glass Menagerie, Carol Cutrere in Orpheus Descending and just about everyone in Vieux Carre.
The entire Glass family in Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenter and Seymour are all pretty quirky and loveable, although occasionally I want to drag Bessie physically from the bathroom to leave Zooey in peace for just five minutes.
One of the strengths of Tell Me Everything is that Sarah Salway makes a heroine of Molly, who begins as one of life's outcasts for her differences, but whom we grow to understand and even love.
Richard Power's The Goldbug Variations features Stuart Ressler, a scientist and music lover in the 1950s part of the story, as well as Frank Todd, a researcher, and Janet (I think, her name is) a librarian from the 1990s part of the story. They're pretty much all eccentrics - marvelous characters! You do want to read this book. You do want to read this book.
Dickens is a master of eccentrics characters of both ilks. Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House is one I simply want to murder. Devotes her life to the poor of Africa at the expense of her own family, needy simply for her love (if not her help with the housekeeping). An utterly infuriating eccentric for her singleminded-pigheadedness.
I could go on and on with this question, but just one more. Turn over an Iris Murdoch novel and your sure to find at least one eccentric. The most embarrassing one that comes to mind is Charles Arrowby, recently retired man of the theater and hero of The Sea, The Sea. The novel was a Booker winner for good reason. It is a gem and features one of the most cringe-worthy heroes you are ever likely to meet.