Saturday, June 28, 2008


‘My heroes have always been cowboys/ and they still are, it seems/ sadly in search of and one step in back of/ themselves and their slow-moving dreams.’ Willie Nelson

Just before I left... at three in the afternoon, drinking plastic jugs of Pimm’s in Wetherspoons, someone reminded me of my main ambition in life aged sixteen.

‘Francie, you always wanted to be the Great Gatsby when you grew up. Now you’ve come as close as you can without getting caught up in a mess of car-crashes and hopeless, obsessive love,’ (or words to that effect) ‘Don’t you think it’s time you got yourself a new role model?’

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. There’s no shortage of heroes.

  • Sydney Carton
  • Magnus Pym
  • Becky Sharpe
  • Inspector Grant from Josephine Tey
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Desdemona (but not Ophelia)
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Don Quixote
  • Toad of Toad Hall (actually Toad of Toad Hall is The Great Gatsby, just presented differently)
  • Jo from Little Women
  • Jo from The Chalet School
  • Yossarian
  • Ginny from the Marlowe stories
  • Elsie from What Katy Did
  • The protagonist in A Farewell to Arms
  • Miss Jean Brodie
  • Emma Bovary (but not Anna Karenina)
  • Matilda
  • Viola
  • Jude the Obscure
  • Emma from Emma
  • The protagonist in The Bell Jar (we need to reclaim this excellent book from the self-hating, self-harming, American teenage girls)
  • Jane Eyre
  • Steppenwolf
  • Kezia in various Katherine Mansfield stories
  • Sally Bowles in Goodbye to Berlin
  • Count Fosco
  • Mr Majeika
  • Stephen Dedalus
  • Lucy and/or Jill from Narnia
  • Dorian Gray

The problem is that most of them seem to be just as self-destructive as Jay Gatsby. Even Winnie the Pooh ends up lying down and taking it when his erstwhile ‘lifelong companion’ rejects him and the Hundred-Acre-Wood in favour of ‘school’ and conformism in the real world. Or else they’re cool while they’re young and then they turn down good-looking, rich charmers to marry elderly German professors, or boring English tuberculosis specialists, or pretentious, repressed homosexual dukes of crappy islands, and breed hundreds of moronic children. Of course since Bildungsromans about women, especially older ones, tend to have that anticlimactic feeling- the heroines grow up by discovering they have to stop doing whatever they want- you can’t really blame them for finishing their exciting youths off with a boring marriage.

I’m beginning to feel like Rimmer when he goes into Better Than Life, the computer game that makes all your dreams come true, and gradually realises that his sub-conscience has it in for him, and so all his dreams will always be nightmares. No, it’s not quite the same. But the problem with literary heroes is that an author can finish the story any time he likes, but you’ve got to live life until it’s over. (I just paid six grand to find that out.)

I may also be getting to old for an ambition that starts with the words ‘When I grow up...’


jack said...

i can't endorse any of these;
read some books with decent heroes damnit

woodscolt said...

Huh! I once said I saw you as Ginny and you argued with me!

Lucy Snowe is totally more of a role model than Jane Eyre, though.

problemshelved said...

Lucy Snowe marries a weird old man. She's cooler than Jane but at least Rochester is sexy

woodscolt said...

Rochester is not sexy! He's a mental control freak and Jane only agrees to marry him when he has effectively been castrated.
At least Monsieur Paul respects Lucy as a womand and an individual and doesn't see her as a child-like/fairy-like being.

problemshelved said...

He's only sexy after he's been 'castrated' but he's definitely sexy.

problemshelved said...

He's only sexy after he's been 'castrated' but he's definitely sexy.