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Book Magazine’s 100 Best Characters Since 1900

Just because we like characters, doesn’t mean they’re always safe. Eep.

Characters in books become our friends. We read their stories, look into their brains and see their thoughts, feel their emotions. We get as close to them as we do our loved ones, and that is something really, truly special. But, alas, not all characters are created equal, and I think we can all agree that we connect better with some than with others. A lot of this boils down to personal preference, of course; if you, as a reader, dislike violence in general, you probably won’t like bonding with Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, just like if you’re not a fan of romances, you should probably steer clear of Nicholas Sparks and Nora Roberts’ characters.

But is it possible that there are characters out there that are so good they surpass the limitations of personal preference and are just, well, the best? Book Magazine certainly thought so.

Back in 2002 (lets not think about the fact that that was 11 years ago, shall we?) the now defunct Book Magazine put together a panel of 55 authors, editors, literary agents, and actors, with the goal of compiling a ranked list of the top one hundred characters in literature since 1900. A seemingly impossible task, to be sure, but they managed to do it, and here it is, for your viewing pleasure, dear readers!

  1. Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby~F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  2. Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye~J. D. Salinger)
  3. Humbert Humbert (Lolita~Vladimir Nabokov)
  4. Leopold Bloom (Ulysses~James Joyce)
  5. Rabbit Angstrom (Rabbit, Run~John Updike)
  6. Sherlock Holmes (The Hound of the Baskervilles~Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
  7. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird~Harper Lee)
  8. Molly Bloom (Ulysses~James Joyce)
  9. Stephen Dedalus (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man~James Joyce)
  10. Lily Bart (House of Mirth~Edith Wharton)
  11. Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s~Truman Capote)
  12. Gregor Samsa (The Metamorphosis~Franz Kafka)
  13. The Invisible Man (Invisible Man~Ralph Ellison)
  14. Lolita (Lolita~Vladimir Nabokov)
  15. Aureliano Buendia (One Hundred Years of Solitude~Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  16. Clarissa Dalloway (Mrs. Dalloway~Virginia Woolf)
  17. Ignatius Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces~John Kennedy Toole)
  18. George Smiley (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy~John LeCarre)
  19. Mrs. Ramsay (To the Lighthouse~Virginia Woolf)
  20. Bigger Thomas (Native Son~Richard Wright)
  21. Nick Adams (In Our Time~Ernest Hemingway)
  22. Yossarian (Catch-22~Joseph Heller)
  23. Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind~Margaret Mitchell)
  24. Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird~Harper Lee)
  25. Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep~Raymond Chandler)
  26. Kurtz (Heart of Darkness~Joseph Conrad)
  27. Stevens (The Remains of the Day~Kazuo Ishiguro)
  28. Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo (The Baron in the Trees~Italo Calvino)
  29. Winnie the Pooh (Winnie the Pooh~A. A. Milne)
  30. Oskar Matzerath (The Tin Drum~Gunter Grass)
  31. Hazel Motes (Wise Blood~Flannery O’Connor)
  32. Alex Portnoy (Portnoy’s Complaint~Philip Roth)
  33. Binx Bolling (The Moviegoer~Walker Percy)
  34. Sebastian Flyte (Brideshead Revisited~Evelyn Waugh)
  35. Jeeves (My Man Jeeves~P. G. Wodehouse)
  36. Eugene Henderson (Henderson the Rain King~Saul Bellow)
  37. Marcel (Remembrance of Things Past~Marcel Proust)
  38. Toad (The Wind in the Willows~Kenneth Grahame)
  39. The Cat in the Hat (The Cat in the Hat~Dr. Seuss)
  40. Peter Pan (The Little White Bird~J. M. Barrie)
  41. Augustus McCrae (Lonesome Dove~Larry McMurtry)
  42. Same Spade (The Maltese Falcon~Dashiell Hammett)
  43. Judge Holden (Blood Meridian~Cormac McCarthy)
  44. Willie Stark (All the King’s Men~Robert Penn Warren)
  45. Stephen Maturin (Master and Commander~Patrick O’Brian)
  46. The Little Prince (The Little Prince~Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
  47. Santiago (The Old Man and the Sea~Ernest Hemingway)
  48. Jean Brodie (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie~Muriel Spark)
  49. The Whiskey Priest (The Power and the Glory~Graham Greene)
  50. Neddy Merrill (The Swimmer~John Cheever)
  51. Sula Peace (Sula~Toni Morrison)
  52. Meursault (The Stranger~Albert Camus)
  53. Jake Barnes (The Sun Also Rises~Ernest Hemingway)
  54. Phoebe Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye~J. D. Salinger)
  55. Janie Crawford (Their Eyes Were Watching God~Zora Neale Hurston)
  56. Antonia Shimerda (My Antonia~Willa Cather)
  57. Grendel (Grendel~John Gardner)
  58. Gulley Jimson (The Horse’s Mouth~Joyce Cary)
  59. Big Brother (1984~George Orwell)
  60. Tom Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley~Patricia Highsmith)
  61. Seymour Glass (Nine Stories~J. D. Salinger)
  62. Dean Moriarty (On the Road~Jack Kerouac)
  63. Charlotte (Charlotte’s Web~E. B. White)
  64. T. S. Garp (The World According to Garp~John Irving)
  65. Nick and Nora Charles (The Tin Man~Dashiell Hammett)
  66. James Bond (Casino Royale~Ian Fleming)
  67. Mr. Bridge (Mrs. Bridge~Evan S. Connell)
  68. Geoffrey Firmin (Under the Volcano~Malcolm Lowry)
  69. Benjy (The Sound and the Fury~William Faulkner)
  70. Charles Kinbote (Pale Fire~Vladimir Nabokov)
  71. Mary Katherine Blackwood (We Have Always Lived in the Castle~Shirley Jackson)
  72. Charles Ryder (Brideshead Revisited~Evelyn Waugh)
  73. Claudine (Claudine at School~Colette)
  74. Florentino Ariza (Love in the Time of Cholera~Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  75. George Follansbee Babbitt (Babbitt~Sinclair Lewis)
  76. Christopher Tietjens (Parade’s End~Ford Madox Ford)
  77. Frankie Addams (The Member of the Wedding~Carson McCullers)
  78. The Dog of Tears (Blindness~Jose Saramago)
  79. Tarzan (Tarzan of the Apes~Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  80. Nathan Zuckerman (My Life as a Man~Philip Roth)
  81. Arthur “Boo” Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird~Harper Lee)
  82. Henry Chinaski (Post Office~Charles Bukowski)
  83. Joseph K. (The Trial~Franz Kafka)
  84. Yuri Zhivago (Dr. Zhivago~EBoris Pasternak)
  85. Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone~J. K. Rowling)
  86. Hana (The English Patient~Michael Ondaatje)
  87. Margaret Schlegel (Howard’s End~E. M. Forster)
  88. Jim Dixon (Lucky Jim~Kinglsey Amis)
  89. Maurice Bendrix (The End of the Affair~Graham Greene)
  90. Lennie Small (Of Mice and Men~John Steinbeck)
  91. Mr. Biswas (A House for Mr. Biswas~V. S. Naipaul)
  92. Alden Pyle (The Quiet American~Graham Greene)
  93. Kimball “Kim” O’Hara (Kim~Rudyard Kipling)
  94. Newland Archer (The Age of Innocence~Edith Wharton
  95. Clyde Griffiths (An American Tragedy~Theodore Dreiser)
  96. Eeyore (Winnie the Pooh~A. A. Milne)
  97. Quentin Compson (The Sound and the Fury~William Faulkner)
  98. Charlie Marlow (Heart of Darkness~Joseph Conrad)
  99. Celie (The Color Purple~Alice Walker)
  100. Augie March (The Adventures of Augie March~Saul Bellow)

What do you think, dear readers? Do you agree or disagree with these choices? What characters would you add if you could include titles published before 1900 and/or after 2002? Do you think it’s silly to try to rank characters like this in the first place? Discuss!


5 thoughts on “Book Magazine’s 100 Best Characters Since 1900

  1. wow, I clearly don’t agree with this list. Where was Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett? Winnie the Pooh is not a better character than they are. Also, I would love to see the main character from “The Tea House fires.” She was wonderfully real and complex. Needs some revision

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