Another short post, but one which I’ve been mulling over while reading Barchester Towers – since, as any followers of @stuck_inabook on Twitter might have noticed, I flipping love Septimus Harding. He is the hero of The Warden and, to a lesser extent, Barchester Towers – and he is about the most moral, kind, and self-sacrificing gentleman imaginable.
He thus joins what has become a trio of literary men whom I admire wholeheartedly. Alongside Septimus H are Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and lovely Joe Gargery in Great Expectations. What all three have in common are absolute goodness. They are basically my fictional moral compasses.
But… what’s also struck me, subsequently, is that (much as I continue to admire these men) I’m not sure how much I would like to know them in real life. Because none of them (correct me if I’m wrong) are especially funny, and a sense of humour is pretty much the thing I value most in a friend or acquaintance. Yes, Joe is fond of larks, but I’m not sure I would find many of the same things larkworthy.
Would knowing Septimus or Atticus in real life just make me feel unworthy all of the time? Would they be able to have a giggle over a cup of tea? I’m not sure.
Plenty of the characters I love reading about (Miss Hargreaves, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mapp & Lucia) would be nightmares in reality, but I’ve come to realise that it’s not just the appalling ones who wouldn’t work out well on a day to day basis, it’s the good’uns too.
Or are there characters who are very funny but also very good? By which I mean moral-mentor-good, not Elizabeth-Bennett-sort-of-good. Or is a sense of humour always a slight moral flaw (or at least a moral diminishment) in a novel?
Here endeth the stream of consciousness…