You read a book and the fictional character in your book reads a book too! Don’t you love it when this happens… It is exciting to find fictional characters relishing a book or just a small plot of some book or getting inspired by another book.
Another charm in knowing a fictional character’s love for a certain book is like striking a conversation with the author who is sharing his/her interpretation of the book through their characters. I believe that these short, subtle paragraphs within the narrative are recommendations for the readers from the author. These books definitely influenced the author’s thought process while writing and it adds to the reading experience if you have read the cited book.
1. Jane Eyre’s love for Gulliver’s Travels
Any list of fictional characters reading fiction cannot begin without Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’. At the beginning of the book, little Jane Eyre living with rude and arrogant Aunt Reeds and cousins sees comfort in reading Thomas Bewick’s ‘History of British Birds’, sitting secluded behind the curtains on the window sill. Rather than the text of the book, Jane Eyre liked certain introductory pages; her real fascination was for the places suggested in it like Siberia, Iceland, and the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone.
Jane Eyre wanted to see the world and at a point when her life was constricted within the four walls of the Reeds’ house, she had books to fall back on. The famous ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Jonathan Swift – read and re-read by Jane Eyre. ‘Jane Eyre’ was published in 1847, and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was published in 1726 that had already seen more than a hundred years of popularity.
Jane loved reading ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, she had made this transition from fairytales. She believed in this book and wanted to see the fantastical world as caricatured by Jonathan Swift. Though the meaning behind the same book changes when Jane is punished and sent to the red room where she faints with terror. While recuperating from this shock, Jane asks Bessie, the caretaker to get her ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ from the library. This time the tale of enticing adventures turns into a desolate wanderer’s story in the most dreaded and dangerous places.
2. Eleanor’s copy of Jane Eyre in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor, in a lot of sense, feels like a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman published in 2017 touches upon themes of loneliness and mental health. The book is about Eleanor, a 30-something, socially awkward woman living independently in Glasgow.
Eleanor loves to read but is confused with so many books to choose from, so her easy way out is to buy the first book she sets her eyes on. Her favourite book though is ‘Jane Eyre’. A book that is emotionally comforting as she finds Jane relatable to her own personality in many ways.
I folded my pillow in half to support me as I sat up. Sleep still felt far away, and I was in need of soothing. I reached down into the gap between the mattress and the wall and sought my old faithful, its edges rounded and softened with years of handling. Jane Eyre. I could open up the novel at any page and immediately know where I was in the story, could almost visualize the next sentence before I reached it.
This book shows the same level of pain, loneliness, and absence of love since childhood in Eleanor’s life parallel to Jane Eyre’s character. Moreover, Gail Honeyman does it overtly by choosing names from ‘Jane Eyre’. There is ‘Mr. and Mrs. Reed’ one of Eleanor’s foster carers who found her to be insolent and rude. The mean and vindictive supervisor of Lowood School, Mr. Brocklehurst’s name pops up as the representative of the Family Welfare Department supervising Eleanor’s Foster care.
3. March sisters ‘Pickwick Club’ in ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott
‘The Pickwick Papers’ was Charles Dickens first novel published in 1836 which was a favorite of the March sisters in ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott. In ‘The Pickwick Papers’, the Pickwick Club of London headed by Samuel Pickwick decides to establish a traveling society in which four members journey about England and make reports on their travels.
In ‘Little Women’, the four March sisters hold meetings of the Pickwick Club, a society for arts and letters modeled on the club from ‘The Pickwick Papers’. The sisters produce a newsletter each week, with advertisements, poems, and stories. Unlike the all-male club from Dicken’s novel, the March sisters keep their club exclusive to women and are quite reluctant to let Laurie become a member.
The March sisters don the characters of the Pickwick Club members while impersonating their little feat at home. Finally, Laurie is accepted as a member who sort of takes charge of the house post office to facilitate the exchange of letters. This section is fun to read and something one can relate to as a play theme for the tweens!
4. Reference of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Gone With the Wind
‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe was published in 1852 and was highly influential in the decade before the Civil War. The book chronicles the life of Tom, a slave who is sold off by his white owners and has to endure pain and hardship throughout his life.
‘Gone With the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell brought the Southern sentiment during the Civil War to the fore. Scarlett O’Hara, the protagonist of ‘Gone With the Wind’ believed that even though the north was hard-pressed on the emancipation of slaves, they hardly knew or understood these people. To her, it seemed that the demonized image of the Southerners as exploitative, inhumane people using brutal authority over the slaves was referenced from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.
“Accepting Uncle Tom’s Cabin as revelation second only to the Bible, the Yankee women all wanted to know about the bloodhounds which every Southerner kept to track down runaway slaves.”
5. Tereza’s copy of ‘Anna Karenina’ and Karenin in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’
‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ by Milan Kundera published in 1982 chronicles the lives of four protagonists and a dog through the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovakia.
The second time Tereza meets Tomas; she has a heavy suitcase and a copy of ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy. Tereza came to Tomas’s life through a train station, a motif from ‘Anna Karenina’. The beginning and end of Tomas and Tereza’s story seem to be strewn parallel to Anna and Vronsky. Another interesting thing is Tereza believes her holding on to ‘Anna Karenina’ gave a wrong idea to Tomas.
Tomas and Tereza name their dog ‘Karenin’, derived from the ‘Anna Karenina’. The dog is female but gets the name of Anna’s husband, turning Karenin into an important character revealing the dichotomies of human nature.
“Early in the novel that Tereza clutched under her arm when she went to visit Tomas, Anna meets Vronsky in curious circumstances: they are at the railway station when someone is run over by a train. At the end of the novel, Anna throws herself under a train. This symmetrical composition—the same motif appears at the beginning and at the end—may seem quite novelistic to you, and I am willing to agree, but only on condition that you refrain from reading such notions as fictive, fabricated, and untrue to life into the word novelistic. Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion.”
The famous opening line of ‘Anna Karenina’ read, ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ and Milan Kundera seemed to have explored the couples in his book on this premise.
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