We were a small group (4) on Tuesday evening and I’m just posting some scratch notes about our wide ranging conversation for those who weren’t there.

The theme of vivid portrayals of family members was broadened out to include different ways of portraying character eg visual, irony, behaviour.

Firstly we looked at The Guardian “Families in Literature” series


some were familiar, others new to us but the links are certainly well worth a browse. (HT Louise).

Two particularly striking and very different examples of characterization came up. One from

Howard’s End (HT Karen) – the character of Jacky, girlfriend of Leonard Bast – wonderfully visual.


“A woman entered, of whom it is simplest to say that she was not respectable. Her appearance was awesome. She seemed all strings and bell-pulls – ribbons, chains, bead necklaces that clinked and caught – and a boa of azure feathers hung round her neck, with the ends uneven. Her throat was bare, wound with a double row of pearls, her arms were bare to the elbows, and might be detected at the shoulder, through cheap lace. Her hat, which was flowery, resembled those punnets, covered with flannel which we sowed with mustard and cress in our childhood, and which germinated here yes, and there no. She wore it on the back of her head. As for her hair, or rather hairs, they are too complicated to describe, but one system went down her back, lying in a thick pad there, while another, created for a lighter destiny, rippled round her forehead. The face – the face does not signify. It was the face of the photograph, but older, and the teeth were not so numerous as the photographer had suggested, and certainly not so white. Yes, Jacky was past her prime, whatever that prime may have been. She was descending quicker than most women into the colourless years, and the look in her eyes confessed it.”

The second passage is from Pride & Prejudice (HT Karen) and has very little description of the character’s physical appearance concentrating instead on behaviour and making a nice contrast to the Howard’s End description.

“Mr Collins was punctual to his time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr Bennet indeed said little; but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr Collins seemed neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to be silent himself. He was a tall heavy-looking man of about five and twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners very formal. He had not long been seated before he complimented Mrs Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters; said he had heard much of their beauty, but that in this instance fame had fallen short of the truth; and added’ that he did not doubt her seeing them all in due time well disposed of in marriage. This gallantry was not much to the taste of some of his hearers; but Mrs Bennet, who quarrelled with no compliments, answered most readily.”


Other examples we discussed and recommend are –

Clarence Day – Life with Father – a very traditional late 19th Century North American father hires a cook – very funny.

The Diary of Anne Frank – scene-setting of daily life at the beginning of the book, so mature for a 13 year old.

F Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby – portrayed almost entirely by third party conjecture – only appears on page 54 when he turns out to be rather dull.