50 of the Greatest Characters in Literature

One of the things literature does better than almost any other medium is allow us to experience another person’s quality of mind, and sometimes even inhabit it. It follows, then, that every avid reader has a favorite literary character — whether they’re beloved for dastardly deeds, tough-girl antics, sex appeal, or a high snark quotient — and that there are many impossibly good ones out there. After the jump, you’ll find 50 of the best. To be clear: a great character isn’t always one you like (just ask Claire Messud), but one that is somehow extraordinary, or evokes some kind of delicious story-feeling in the reader. As always, this list reflects the personal tastes and proclivities of its creator, and many great characters didn’t make the cut (Jo March, Huck Finn, Merusault, Anne Shirley, looking at you), so if your favorite isn’t on here, and them on in the comments.

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Mary Katherine Blackwood, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood,” Jackson’s classic novel begins. “I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amantia phalloides, the deathcup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.” Strange and funny and constantly sizing up everyone around her and finding them wanting, MKB is the creepy little sister of my heart.