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The Quick 10: The Real People Behind 10 Literary Characters

We’ve learned the background of some children’s book characters here on the _floss (Eloise may have been based on Liza Minnelli, for example), but today we’re uncovering the inspiration for some characters in more adult novels.

1. Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind was distant cousins with Doc Holliday. It’s supposed that she based the character of Ashley Wilkes on him.

2. Moby-Dick was based on a real-life albino sperm whale from the 1830s named Mocha Dick. Mocha Dick was infamous for attacking ships and surviving harpoon injuries. He was killed in 1839.

3. Branwell Bronte is thought to have served as the inspiration for Benjamin Braddock in the 1963 novel The Graduate. Although Bronte died more than 100 years before the novel was written, his taboo relationship with a much older, married Mrs. Robinson has raised suspicion that author Charles Webb was a bit of a Bronte historian.

4. There are several theories as to where Ebenezer Scrooge came from, but one of the strongest contenders is that he was based on a miser named John Elwes. Dickens mentioned him in later letters and the man who illustrated Dickens’ work, John Leech, chose to portray Mr. Scrooge in a manner that closely resembled Elwes. Do you see the resemblance?

5. The appearance of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables was based on a picture of Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbit. Lucy Maud Montgomery didn’t know this at the time, though – she simply pulled a picture out of a magazine that she felt best embodied her idea of Anne.

6. Robert Langdon, it may come as no surprise to you, is Dan Brown’s idealized version of himself. Brown and his most famous character share a birthday, a hometown and the same school. His name was based on John Langdon, professor of typography at Drexel University. The real Langdon created the ambigrams for Brown’s book Angels and Demons.

7. Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby is believed to be a thinly-veiled version of Ginevra King, the daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman. Their very different social standings drove them apart, and during his relationship with King, Fitzgerald wrote the phrase, “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls,” which was later used in the movie version of Gatsby.

8. In his post-Gatsby novel, Tender is the Night, Fitzgerald based his main characters on people not very far from his heart – himself and his wife, Zelda. He mirrored their life right down to affairs, psychiatric treatment and even his feelings about his own professional failure.

9. Dill Harris from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is believed to be based on her childhood best friend and neighbor. That kid, Truman Persons, just happened to grow up to be famous in his own right – you know him better as Truman Capote.
10. A real James Bond? Maybe. Ian Fleming never confirmed that his superspy was ever based on anyone with the exception of James Bond, ornithologist, whose name he borrowed. But historian Keith Jeffery has speculated that 007 was based in part on Fleming’s friend Bill Dunderdale, an MI6 agent who seems to have shared Bond’s affinity for women and cars.

I know there’s many more out there – do you know of any real-life inspirations for famous literary characters?


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