It is not uncommon for a character’s name to appear in the title of a book, but some literary characters are so iconic that their very name conjures up a mood, a setting, a plot line, or even an entire genre. Today we salute those memorable characters and their stories.
“Hamlet” by Shakespeare (1603). This is an oft-quoted and well-known tragedy of a depressed, brooding, teenager who happens to be the Prince of Denmark. He is haunted by his dead father, hates his mother and his step-father, and contemplates the existential question whether “to be or not to be.”
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte (1847). This is a classic gothic tale of a mistreated orphan who grows up to become a governess at Thornfield Hall, the home of Mr. Rochester. Jane falls in love with Rochester, but together they endure tragedy and hardship. Jane eventually leaves Thornfield, but never stops loving the enigmatic Rochester.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (1818). Scientist Victor Frankenstein discovers a way to reanimate tissue, and he dreams of creating a beautiful creature in the lab. His creation, it turns out, is a massive, repulsive monster. The story ends in tragedy for both Victor Frankenstein and his hideous creation. This epistolary novel is often cited as the precursor to both the horror and science fiction genres.
“Emma” by Jane Austen (1815). This comedy of manners centers around main character Emma Woodhouse, a wealthy young woman, who plays at match-making among her friends and family in her English village. Emma is too young and inexperienced to understand the impact her efforts have on the emotional lives of her friends, until she realizes that she is in love with a man she has been trying to match with someone else.
"Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy (1877). This sprawling novel of families and lovers is set in Czarist Russia. In the city, Anna's heart leads her into an affair with the dashing Count Vronsky, leaving her socially ostracized, separated from her child, and despondent. While in the country, landowner Levin and his wife Kitty learn how to be a family.
"Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens (1838). Oliver Twist is perhaps literature's most recognized orphan. Dickens tells the tale of a boy of the streets of 19th Century London and the choices he must make to survive.
"Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf (1925). This stream-of-consciousness telling of a day in the life of a wealthy Londoner planning a party starts with Mrs. Dalloway's decision to buy the flowers herself.
“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955). An unsettling yet well-told tale of inappropriate attraction by an adult male toward an adolescent girl.
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