Harper Lee died a few days ago. Atticus Finch died a while ago, mortally wounded by the publication of Go Set a Watchman. That is, the holier than thou Gregory-Peck-type Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, died. The real Atticus Finch, or the draft Atticus Finch, depending on which way you look at it, lives on in infamy. He’s A Bad Man because he’s racist. Lordy lordy. Our whiter than white Atticus was nought but a whited sepulchre. A product of his time and place. Either a man with shades of grey in his past, a hypocrite, an even better lawyer and parent than we thought, or the rewrite of a canny author.
So, the late Harper Lee is vilified. Parents petition to have their little Atticus renamed. We like our fictional protagonists really fictional. One dimensional. Good according to our ideology. White.
We have advice for the one-star Goodreads or Amazon reviewer who writes, “I just couldn’t care about the characters. I didn’t like any of them”. Stick to sticky romances, contemporary fiction with cute names (preferably referencing weather). That’s fine if the reader wants unsoiled pre-chewed amusement. A guidebook to niceness. The modern type of puritanism, that is.
In the opinion of TVC however, the unsympathetic protagonist (or nasty main character) is a joy to the world. A refreshment to the soul suffering from an overdose of staunch but sensitive forensic investigators and feisty but lachrymose women police of popular culture. We don’t have to care, just wonder.
We’re not talking a pathetic Emma Bovary or Alice (The Good Terrorist). The author wants us to like these idiots. We’re not talking a secondary character, a villainous Bill Sykes or Vicar of Wrexhill. The author is afraid of these. Nor do we mean a likable rogue.
No,we invite you to consider the awesomely awful Oskar Matzarath (The Tin Drum), Meursault (The Outsider), The Mayor of Casterbridge, Holden Caulfield (“this is my shooting people hat…I shoot people in this hat”), Becky Sharpe, Bob Slocum (Something Happened), Raskolnikov, Harry Angstrom (Updike’s Rabbit series), John West (Power Without Glory), Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces) and last but by no means least , everybody’s favourite – Humbert Humbert. These are “real” people, great books. So uplifting.
That’s not to say that the evil one cannot try a little goodness – Humbert Humbert does. At the end. But we still admire Nabokov anyway..