Great Writing #1: Character Sketch from The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

My last blog post about becoming a better reader got me thinking about great writing and how I’m appreciating it more and more.  Sometimes it just jumps up and hits me in the face when I’m reading and I have to stop and say ‘Wow.  Brilliant.’ and usually; ‘I wish I could write like that.’  Perhaps that’s just me…but I’ve started to l look out for some examples in the books I’m reading which I thought I would share here.

The first one is a wonderful character sketch I came across near the beginning of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  The character is called Professor Pesca – an Italian gentleman who left Italy for political reasons and has been teaching languages in London for several years.  Not a style of writing I have read for many years and it takes a bit of getting into but this was such a pleasure to read and made me smile.  Here’s why:

“Without being actually a dwarf – for he was perfectly well proportioned from head to foot – Pesca was, I think, the smallest human being I ever saw out of a show room.  Remarkable anywhere, by his personal appearance, he was still further distinguished among the rank and file of mankind by the harmless eccentricity of his character.  The ruling idea of his life appeared to be, that he was bound to show his gratitude to the country which had afforded him an asylum and a means of subsistence by doing his utmost to turn himself into an Englishman.  Not content with paying the nation in general the compliment of invariably carrying an umbrella, and invariably wearing gaiters and a white hat, the Professor further aspired to become an Englishman in his habits and amusements, as well as his personal appearance.  Finding us distinguished, as a nation, by our love of athletic exercises, the little man, in the innocence of his heart, devoted himself impromptu to all our English sports and pastimes whenever he had the opportunity of joining them; firmly persuaded that he could adopt our national amusements of the field by an effort of will precisely as he had adopted our national galleries and our national white hat.  I had seen him risk his limbs blindly at a fox-hunt and in a cricket-field; and soon afterwards I saw him risk his life, just as blindly, in the sea at Brighton.”

A beautiful measure of a minor character in a few paragraphs.  It has got me thinking about the minor characters in my WIP and how I can convey them vividly but succinctly.  Food for thought I hope.  Next time, settings…


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