Character witnesses

Last week, we asked 100 literary names to nominate their favourite fictional characters. The response from <i>Independent</i> readers was huge. Here, we present a selection of your heroes
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Sidney Carton

What sort of a list was that? No sign of Sidney Carton, the best drunken antihero of all time, in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. Holden Caulfield ( The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger) saved us all from an early death and ensured that a misspent childhood was achieved. Or Tom Joad from Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I earn a living in the trade-union movement, and Tom Joad is one of those I should thank.

Steve Belcher, regional officer, UNISON South-west

Charles Pooter

The ever-anxious, constantly put-upon Charles Pooter in George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody: the genteel epitome of Victorian suburbia, a worthy precursor of Captain Mainwaring, with more than a dash of Eeyore.

Michael Mayne, Salisbury

Adam Lambsbreath

The only character in Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm to steadfastly ignore Flora's attempts to tidy up. If only I had cows called Aimless, Pointless, Feckless and Graceless. He reminds me of my father; it would never surprise me to see him "clettering" (cleaning) dishes with a thorn stick.

Kevin Harper, Egerton, Kent

Guy Pringle

From The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning, he's like a more lettered version of Indiana Jones, going to all sorts of places I've always wanted to see. He reads Coleridge on deck as others are gripped by fear that the ship will be torpedoed. He's the master of nonchalance, the king of cool and a gentleman.

Nagihan Haliloglu, Istanbul

Arturo Bandini

The star of John Fante's best-known novel, Ask the Dust, is just a fantastic

character who

manages to be both delightful and infuriating. Bandini's a kind of cross between Holden Caulfield, Basil Fawlty and Travis Bickle. He's a poet and he knows it, but he simmers with extreme emotion, and this is often his undoing. Fante's honest, lyrical and funny portrayal of this character makes a lot of recent writing look insipid.

Leon Davey, Peterborough


This is without doubt the most distinctively new character in any book I've read for years. Bartimaeous, in The Amulet of Samarkand by Michael Stroud, is excrutiatingly witty, engaging without being attractive, awesomely intelligent but lacking self-knowledge.

Neil Howlett, Somerset

Morvern Callar

In the mid-Nineties, while the laddish media were in a lather over Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, Scotland's Alan Warner gave us an unforgettable heroine for our times, the title character in Morvern Callar. I have never fallen so helplessly in love with a fictional literary character as I did with this sublime creation. That Warner, a thirtysomething male, should so unerringly get under the skin of his protagonist and find such a unique voice for her clipped, sardonic world-view, remains at once erotic, eerie and superbly life-affirming.

Kevin O'Donohoe, Hounslow

Nigel Molesworth

You can keep your Darcy, Heathcliff and Rochester types: in the words of my personal ideal, Nigel Molesworth, "they are weeds and wets and I diskard them". There's no one quite like Nigel (from the series by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle) to set my pulse racing, with his floppy fringe (eat your heart out, Hugh Grant) and disdainful smirk, and those smouldering eyes. And his masterful handling of the peashooter is second to none, hem hem.

Trezza Azzopardi (the author of 'Remember Me')

Guido Brunetti

With all literature to choose from and hot competition from Becky Sharp, Ubu and Mrs Malaprop, it seems perverse to choose a modern detective. But I adore Commissario Guido Brunetti, the melancholy, kind, humane, home-loving, intermittently mischievous hero of Donna Leon's novels set in Venice. Whenever I go there, I hope to see him trudging through the mist, vanishing down a narrow calle or glancing up at a sottoportego on the way home to eat risotto with his adored wife Paola.

Libby Purves, broadcaster

Captain Augustus McCrae

He's one of the two dusty fed-up cowboys who run the Hat Creek Cattle Co in Larry McMurtry's classic Lonesome Dove. McCrae is funny and philosophical; he takes his boots off before he roots, and best of all, he never shuts up. What woman wouldn't want him for her own?

Heather Mallick (author of 'Pearls in Vinegar'), Toronto, Canada

Long John Silver

The ultimate businessman and politician, from RL Stevenson's Treasure Island. A great portrayal of a character it would be all too easy to be misguided enough to trust. Long John Silver creates a business plan to retrieve the treasure at no expense to himself, and when thwarted by less intelligent subordinates, he switches effortlessly to be on the winning side. Apparently amiable, he will betray his partners without a second thought if necessary.

Peter Gillett, Surrey

Stephen Maturin

Without doubt, the physician in Patrick O'Brian's epic seafaring novels. His wit, love of natural history and terminal landlubberism are immensely endearing.The more you meet him, the more you like him.

Martin Dwyer, Waterford, Ireland

Your list made no mention of Stephen Maturin. He's intelligent, witty, musical, worldly-wise: he describes himself as being physically unattractive, but I'm sure his mind and spirit make him irresistible.

Mog Bremner


This chap from Tove Jansson's Moomin books went his own way and sang his own songs, but still stayed true to his friends. As an adult: Corliss from Sherman Alexie's short-story collection Ten Little Indians. She wants to read herself to death and be buried in a coffin filled with paperbacks - what a fitting end for a bookaholic!

Anetta Pirinen, Cambridge

Marian Halcombe

The heroine of The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. Her night-time foray on to the roof in a rainstorm to spy on Count Fosco is unforgettable, and an inspiration.

Colette Griffiths-Ogawa, Chigasaki, Japan

Betsy Trotwood

What about these three? Betsy Trotwood in Dickens's David Copperfield is a wonderful combination of eccentricity and love. Count Fosco in The Woman in White is one of the greatest, most plausible villains in fiction. Pooh-Bah in Gilbert's The Mikado is pompous and infuriating but lovable.

J Michael Sharman

Adam Dalgliesh

The Scotland Yard detective in the novels of PD James is the antithesis of all the hackneyed police characters from Z Cars, The Bill, The Sweeney... Dalgliesh provides a glimmer of hope that among the hard-nosed of copperdom, there are still a few educated, well-spoken men and women who can engage in a discourse on subjects other than the latest automatic pistols.

Peter Coghlan, Broadstone, Dorset

John Dortmunder

The lugubrious crook in Donald E Westlake's comic crime novels meticulously plans intricate crimes that go hilariously wrong, or sometimes even more hilariously right. He's pessimistic, technophobic, oblivious to the real world outside his narrow profession. But his loyal associates still value his ingenious planning and vie to work with him, accepting the disasters as well as the (occasional) rewards.

Margaret Aitchison, Redhill, Surrey

Ivan Denisovich

The hero of Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of... is just an ordinary guy trying to get through another day, like any other ordinary guy - except that his day is just another day in the gulag. How would I manage in his place?

Dick Varga

Septimus Harding

The Reverend Septimus Harding (from Anthony Trollope's Barchester novels) is one of the most thoroughly decent figures in English literature. He shows tremendous moral courage, maintaining his dignity and integrity while at the centre of a media campaign worthy of the 21st century rather than the 19th over his wardenship of Hiram's Hospital. He remains gentle, modest and true to his view of his duty as a Christian. It is interesting to ponder how such a man might fare in public life today.

Susan Deville, New Malden, Surrey

Rebecca de Winter

I'd like to add the already dead, and very mysterious, Rebecca de Winter to your list, from Daphne du Maurier's wonderful novel Rebecca. Here's a character you never see and never hear from; you have to rely on the descriptions of her from other characters, and your own imagination. This mystery woman helps to make for a great read.

Susan Schwartz, North Carolina, USA

Lewis Lambert Strether

The hero of Henry James's The Ambassadors is the most valiant character I know, as well as the most companionable. He confronts human folly, including his own, head on, yet insists on the attainability of virtue. He's a wise innocent for whom deeply despairing or ungallant acts remain quite impossible.

Ivan Webster

Jo March

Strong, brave and imaginative, Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is passionate about life. Her vivid personality makes her sisters Meg, Beth and Amy seem pale and watery. She is self-sacrificing, selling her beautiful long hair to help the family finances. She finds happiness with Professor Baer, a man as cosy, and as intelligent, as his name suggests. Jo helped me see that women can be strong.

Susan Cattan, Manchester


Graham Greene's police officer serving in West Africa in The Heart of the Matter is rigidly just but plagued by pity; long-suffering but humorous; apparently loveless, but commits the ultimate self-sacrifice.

Cole Davis, London

Liam Devlin

The Irish freedom fighter turned moral philosopher from half-a-dozen Jack Higgins books, including The Eagle has Landed, has charmed me in every appearance. His debonair manner, vanity about his age and incorrigible roguishness make him one of the great characters of popular fiction.

Kevin Thornton, Camp Julien, Kabul, Afghanistan

Atticus Finch

He's a man of integrity and inner strength, yet is entirely human. He is a wonderful father, with his gentle humour and honesty, his love and compassion. Reader, I wish I could have married him - but he's Harper Lee's creation in To Kill a Mockingbird.

HMJ Pendrous

Guy Crouchback

May I suggest Guy Crouchback in Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour? His creator called him "a prig, but a brave and honourable prig", but I believe Waugh does him a disservice. Crouchback is a Catholic country gentleman who has no need to pull rank or put on airs, because to him it would seem ridiculous. The trilogy is slightly marred by Waugh's own snobbishness, but Crouchback himself is no snob. He has his failings: he's sexually maladroit, a terrible shot (despite killing a lion in Kenya), and far too easily put-upon. But Crouchback undergoes a moral transformation on two counts; he learns that war is not, after all, a heroic crusade, and he grows an extra skin or two, which makes him less sensitive to boors. Crouchback is humorous, unstuffy, kind and financially generous.

Kenneth Harrison, Huntingdonshire

Kris Kelvin

I guess I'll always settle for Kris Kelvin, of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, with his painful story. It's from him that I learnt that loss is inevitable, and that, instead of crying after the loss, we should enjoy our lives for as long as we have.

Sinan Goktepeli, Texas, USA


Isn't he everyone's favourite literary character? I'm trying to write a sentence of explanation or justification, but, honestly, I feel it's self-explanatory.

Karen Joy Fowler (author of 'The Jane Austen Book Club'), California, USA