MADAME BOVARY, C'EST MOI!: And Other Excursions into the Origins of Famous Literary Characters

Andre Bernard, Author . Norton $19.95 (135p) ISBN 978-0-393-05181-0

The nonfiction equivalent of light verse, this delightful set of characterological inquiries into the real life origins of the likes of Jay Gatsby, Holly Golightly and Godot finds a serious reader sleuthing after gossipy backstories. The trade publisher of Harcourt and a regular columnist for the American Scholar , Bernard is no stranger to the literary life, or, as his Rotten Rejections: Literary Short Takes has already shown, to making light of it. In a series of brief essays arranged alphabetically by the character under discussion, he here finds that Scarlett O'Hara was called Pansy by Margaret Mitchell until her publisher protested against "unhappy associations"; that Shandy (as in Tristram) is Yorkshire dialect for unsteady or addled; that the real Miss Lonelyhearts was actually female (unlike Nathanael West's character) and wrote a column for a Brooklyn newspaper. Readers will find many of their most beloved literary companions here, along with 30 line drawings of items relating to some of the characters, from a martini glass (for Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany's ) to a bat (Dracula, of course). And Bernard takes great care not to spoil one's illusions about Huck Finn, Jack Torrance or Winnie-the-Pooh, leaving their fictional extensions from life fully intact. Sidebars and italicized quotations ("There is no such thing as a 'minor' character in Dostoevski," said F. Scott Fitzgerald) add to the fun. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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