Secondary characters

Where would we be without them? Those lovable, annoying, fascinating second-tier characters that pop in and out of the main action, as onlookers, catalysts, or just sheer entertainment. For the writer they have the annoying habit of grabbing the limelight far too often, occasionally getting extremely uppity and demanding a book of their very own.

One of my favorite secondary characters is Miss Bates from Emma, who was so brilliantly portrayed in the movie version by Sophie Thompson (younger sister of Emma), who seems to specialize in annoying characters–her screen credits also include the role of Mary Musgrove in the 1995 Persuasion. Poor Miss Bates, destined for a life of genteel povery and the neverending patronage of Mr. Knightley and his lovely new bride. Have you ever wondered why Miss Bates never married?–other than the fact that her interminable chatter may have frightened suitors off; or is her verbal overflow a defense? She was a vicar’s daughter, after all, and we know there were two eligible men, Mr. Knightley and Mr. Weston in the neighborhood. I think there’s a mystery in Miss Bates’ past. The scary thing, too, is that Mr. Knightley, in his late thirties, is considered a catch, whereas Miss Bates, who may be younger, has catapulted into middle age and hopeless spinsterhood. (Note to self: save topic of aging for another post.)

Then there’s Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins lite, played so sympathetically you almost liked him, portrayed by Tom Hollander in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice. Or David Bamber’s superlatively greasy Mr. Collins in the A&E P&P. I so identified David Bamber with his role that every time he appeared in Rome as Cicero I hoped he’d dance again…

Who are your favorite secondary characters? Who deserves their own book? Do tell!

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5 Responses to Secondary characters

  1. Lois says:

    I only actually read P&P up to this point, so I’ll just go on that one. . . I’ll go with Lady Catherine. No matter what else she is, she’s intriguing! ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Cara King says:

    I love Mary Bennet too, Megan, and have a secret desire to write her book.

    Miss Bates has always just annoyed me. I do not find her funny. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think she didn’t marry because she has no money — as simple as that. (And as for her being less eligible in her 30’s than Mr. Knightley — well, beyond the money thing, there is the limited fertility period thing!)

    I like Charles Musgrove, in “Persuasion.” (I think I found him interesting even before the film, in which he was portrayed by the brilliant Simon Russell Beale.) I’d be interested in reading his story: is he forever desperately in love with Anne? (He surely can’t be all that happy in his marriage!)

    You didn’t limit it to Austen, so I’ll say I found all the Riverses in “Jane Eyre” interesting. And in “Hamlet,” I always wanted to know Laertes’ story. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Manda says:

    Cara, Laertes was a total hottie! Good call!

    Add me to the Mary Bennett camp. She’s the classic uptight bluestocking heroine. She’d be the perfect foil for a reformable Willoughby.

    What about Col. Fitzwilliam? He would make an excellent match for Mary or Kitty…

  4. Santa says:

    I always thought Kitty Bennett got the short end of the stick. Not as silly as Livvy and not retired as Mary, she had her wings clipped because of her younger sister’s actions! No fair!

    I think a match between Col. Fitzwilliam and Kitty would be delightful. I’d have to re-read P&P to determine if Mary is hiding something from everyone.

  5. Todd says:

    Sometimes a minor character is so good that he (or she) ends up taking over the book. In the Margery Allingham book “The Black Dudley Mystery,” she introduced a secondary character named Albert Campion, who proceeded to demand center stage, and went on to star in a long series of novels and short stories of his own.

    In “Cold Mountain,” Ruby Thewes was in many ways a more interesting and colorful character than the nominal heroine, Ada Monroe.

    John Gardner wrote the novel “Grendel” from the point of view of the monster in Beowulf, whose motivations, many might feel, are insufficiently explored in the original.

    And there’s always Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” from the point of view of two minor characters in Hamlet who never quite figure out what is going on.


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