Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten 'Rebels' In Fiction

TOP TEN TUESDAY is the clever weekly meme hosted by the gals at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH. Every week we're given a different topic and sent forth to construct a list. Today's topic is a bit difficult but I'm up to the challenge. I hope. Top Ten Rebels in Literature - Characters who stood up for what they believed in even if the personal consequences were dire. (Or words to that effect.) I decided, however, to narrow the field a bit and concentrate on fictional rebels.

Here's my entry: (As usual, in no particular order except as the titles occur to me.)

1 ) Sir Percy Blakeney in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL by Baroness Orczy

British nobleman, master of disguises, stalwart hero and mincing, snuff-sniffing, poetry-spouting twerp. Add these up and you get Sir Percy Blakeney, the 18th century bane of Robespierre and Citizen Chauvelin and the salvation of many French noblemen and women (and their heads) during France's Reign of Terror. I read this just a couple of years ago (though, of course, I've seen the movie versions over the years) and loved the story of a man who does what he thinks is right even as most of society, his wife and friends included, think him an ineffectual dolt.

2) Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

We all know the reasons why. A popular choice, but an inevitable one. He doesn't really have his life on the line (I don't think) but certainly his position in the small town hierarchy, his own belief in himself, his view of right and wrong and justice and the example a father must set for his child are all tested here. Finch is a man who does what is right even if all are against him, even as he knows what the outcome must be.

3) Aibileen and Minny in THE HELP by Kathleen Stockett

Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. This is basically a rather facile story of a young white woman, Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan, who decides to write about something that bothers her in order to jumpstart' her career as a budding journalist. Though many reviewers and bloggers fell madly in love with this book - I did not. But I will admit that the world Stockett writes about (theoretically based on events in her own background) spawned some rebels that need to on my list. Aibileen and Minny, the first two black servants who dare speak about their conditions to Skeeter as she, rather naively, attempts to collect info for her book, are true rebels.

In the face of ominous opposition and pressure, Aibileen and Minny break a rigid social barrier to speak the truth. One woman risks her only livelihood the other risks any future prospects of a job (she's already been fired several times for speaking back to her white employers) so there is much on the line when these women speak up for themselves as well as the 'lot' of other black workers in the town of Jackson. Though I found the book stereotypical and sentimental, I'm adding these brave women's names to my list anyhow. Call me contrary.

4) Sid Halley in COME TO GRIEF by Dick Francis

In the Edgar Award winning book featuring ex-champion jockey turned private-eye, Sid Halley, the sequel to ODDS AGAINST and WHIP HAND, Francis gives us the most gut-wrenching case of Halley's career. Though Francis generally only wrote stand-alone books, he did write a brief series featuring this, one of his most fascinating characters. Halley is a jockey who was forced to retire after a horrific accident on the track cost him the use of a hand - now paralyzed - which is encased in a kind of inflexible glove; a daily reminder of what he's lost. Driven by initial bitterness and despair he has re-built his life. He is now an investigator with a respected reputation.

A reputation which goes downhill after Halley, against popular consensus, must turn in a friend, a popular and adored racing figure. A man whom he alone suspects of  being the 'monster' committing unspeakable crimes.

After Halley makes the accusation and testifies, the world turns against him. Who will stand with him? Not many. It is up to Halley then to try and right his world and catch a killer.

I had this friend, you see, that everyone loved.
(My name is Sid Halley.)
I had this friend that everyone loved, and I put him on trial.
The trouble with being an investigator, as I had been doing for approaching five years, was that occasionally one turned up facts that surprised and appalled and smashed peaceful lives forever.

COME TO GRIEF is a splendid entry in the long list of Dick Francis books - most of which I have read and can recommend enthusiastically. It is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart, but it is for those who want to read about a man who does what's right even at the cost of a very public condemnation. A rebel? Yes, I think so.

5) Amelia Peabody in CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peabody

Near the end of the 19th century, Queen Victoria was still on the throne of England and women were still basically chattel to their husbands. An English woman who defied the conventions was seen as 'odd' and worse, as someone to shun. Victorian society could be merciless. Rebellion, especially among women, was not encouraged.

When Amelia Peabody, a spinster of 32 years, unexpectedly finds herself an heiress she travels to the Continent for the first time to begin what will be, for her, a brand new life filled with adventure, mystery, romance and well, Egyptology.  The thing that makes her a rebel in my mind is the way she goes about this. Standing for no nonsense, not suffering fools or the indignities of society, she barrels her way through and even, at one point, 'invents' culottes so that she will be able to move more freely among the ancient Egyptian tombs. Amelia is a 'woman to be reckoned with' as her various Egyptian servants, guides, interpreters, villagers and boatmen will find. She cares not a wit for others' opinions of her actions and will always be guided by her own sense of right and wrong.

Walking with her Italian guide one afternoon, Amelia stops on the streets of Rome to aid a 'fallen' woman - literally a woman who has fallen down in a faint - when other travelers, mostly British, just stand around tsk, tsking and turning up their noses at the very idea of helping their fellow man...uh, woman. Much less a woman who appears unkempt and alone and under no protection of either a man or servant of some kind. I mean, really.

Amelia steps in, imperiously takes command of the situation and in doing so, makes a lifelong friend who will have major impact on her own future. Amelia proves herself a woman not only of substance, but of action. A rebel to her social class.

6) Peter Blood in CAPTAIN BLOOD by Rafael Sabatini

In 18th century England, during an aborted rebellion against the king, an action in which he had no part, Irish physician Peter Blood is nonetheless sentenced to be transported to the Caribbean and sold into slavery. His crime? Helping a wounded man - a stranger - when summoned in his role as physician. In essence, doing what was right, practising his profession, even against the law of the land.

Blood is thereby turned into a rebel, forcibly, when he escapes from the island of Barbados during a pirate raid. After suffering unspeakably at the hands of the plantation owners, Blood and a group of other slaves become pirates, openly rebelling on the high seas against James II of England. Lost to his country and to the woman he unwittingly loves, Peter Blood becomes the infamous Captain Blood.

I love a good swash and buckle story. This is a spectacular one. Peter Blood is a truly memorable character.

7) Queen Elizabeth in AN UNCOMMON READER by Alan Bennett

A modern day fairy tale, but wouldn't it be wonderful if...? When the Queen inadvertently (she is following one of her corgi dogs who has gone astray as corgis will) comes across a lending library van on the grounds of Buckingham Palace she borrows a book merely to stave off any embarrassment her presence might cause.  But when she finds the book fascinating and continues to call on the van for more and more books, her staff and ministers are thrown for a loop as they begin to notice the change in her. She's no longer the monarch by rote they're all used to. She's become a thinking person. Where this will lead nobody knows, but they don't like it and try to put a stop to it.

What this rebel with a cause, the Queen, does in the end will surprise and amuse you. I loved this book.

8) Randy Dreyfus and D.J. Pickett in THE DREYFUS AFFAIR by Peter Lefcourt

What if, in the middle of a baseball pennant race, a heretofore happily married shortstop and a second baseman (on the same team) improbably fall in love? That is the basis of Peter Lefcourt's outrageous love story. A story that is human, humane, funny, eye-popping and full of sports metaphors. Think about it. A pennant race. A possible shot at the World Series. And suddenly out of the blue - THIS! And it's all happening inside one of the most homophobic settings anyone can imagine: Major League Baseball.

When Randy and D.J. are found out by their bosses they are asked to pretend otherwise, to take back the untake-back-able, to lie. This really didn't happen - did it? It's all a big mistake.

But sometimes a baseball player's got to do what's right for himself, his fragile heart, his sense of who he is and who he wants to become. Sometimes it's not all about the game. Talk about the ultimate rebellion played out in front of thousands of angry, uncomprehending baseball fans, the omnivorous press, the furious, scandalized baseball commissioner. Why even the President of the United States gets into the act. The very social fiber of America is at risk. This is mom, baseball and apple pie they're tinkering with. Probably about the biggest no-no there is, in fiction and reality.

This is one of my very favorite books.

9) Hazel in WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams

A band of rabbits on the run from something only one of them can sense. They must leave their present warren at the insistence of one of their kind who is sensitive to the winds of change. One whom most of them ignore, a quiet nobody. Except for Hazel, an intrepid rabbit who goes his own way, thinks his own thoughts. He listens to his friend's warnings and when the time is right - after being reprimanded over and over for attempting to warn the others, he and a band of followers desert the only home they've ever known and set out to find another.

"Watership Down is a remarkable tale of exile and survival, of heroism and leadership...the epic novel of a group of adventurers who desert their doomed city, and venture forth against all odds on a quest for a new home..." The London Times.

Next to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, this is probably my favorite book of all time. That's how much I love it.

10) Jane in JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte

Oh, the ultimate rebel. Even as a child, knowing instinctively that a great injustice is being perpetrated on her. She attempts rebellion and is shot down over and over and ultimately sent to the hell that was Lowood School. Eventually she pretends to adhere to the rules merely to survive. But as soon as she's able she advertises for a position as governess! Think of the temerity. This is no mere little miss-ish miss, this is a young woman to be reckoned with.

Then, when Rochester comes into her life and she falls in love, she denies the natural fruition of that love when it becomes apparent that there is A Great Impediment. Even if only she and Rochester would ever know about the woman in the attic, she must leave him behind. She will not stay to be his mistress. "Who would know, Jane?" She would know. She does what's right even at the cost of two broken hearts.

The ultimate rebel in my book.


  1. I should have mentioned Aibileen, I put Skeeter and Minny but Aibileen is just as great! So excited for the movie

  2. looks like there are some great characters here for me to meet. I almost put Jane Eyre on--but decided not too. But I do think she was a bit of a rebel. Kaye—the road goes ever ever on

  3. Mimi: It's all good. :) Thanks for dropping by.

  4. kaye: Oh, Jane Eyre, definitely. I love all these lists every week. There's always something new.

  5. Wonderful list, Yvette.
    I recently heard the author of The Help is being sued by former nanny of her brother's children, named Ablene Cooper. She claims the character Aibeleen is based on her life.

  6. Wow, Pat. That IS interesting. It's not a book I actually liked all that much, but I included those two characters on my list anyway to stand in for all the women who over the years spoke up when others wouldn't. It's so hard to keep track of so many characters over so many books. Jeez.

  7. I've been meaning to read Watership Down forever! Really must get on that now.. :)

  8. BabyBird: Great. You really should read it. At least, in my opinion. :)

  9. I was so close to putting Hazel!!! Jane is also a great choce! Great list and great commentary this week.

  10. I never really though of Randy & D.J. in the light, but I think you are right on the money. I love them and love them even more together. Of course without Calvin, they wouldn't work. I think I need to reread that book, it's been about a year since I read it last.

    And Hazel is just so damn awesome!

  11. I love your description of Percy. "Twerp." I snorted a little into my drink. :) Great list!

  12. An interesting list. I loved Watership Down. It was a epic adventure.

    In terms of improbable rebels I think of Keith Stewart, the quiet engineer hero of The Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute.

  13. Hello Yvette:
    There should not, we feel, be any apology for including Atticus Finch here for he surely remains one of the prime examples of a character prepared to stand up for himself and what he believes in.

    Jane Eyre we have always regarded as the first emancipated woman in literature so is very deserving of inclusion.

    For ourseles, we should probably add Sir Robert Morton in Terence Rattigan's play 'The Winslow Boy'.

  14. Two Bibliomaniacs: Yes, lots to think about. This is a good meme for spurring the 'little gray cells'. :)

    I'm glad you thought of Hazel. How I love that book.

  15. Ryan: Oh I thought of them almost instantly. Think of what they had to put up with. This is a funny book but with very serious undertones, for sure.

    Remember when D.J. is called in to be 'reasoned with'? And he tells them to go to hell? Here's a guy who's basically not someone who makes a fuss about things and finally he's had enough. He is quietly, furiously angry.

    Perhaps, not your ordinary rebels, but in even daring to 'be together' they are rebels in my book. Sometimes rebellion is a personal matter of the heart. Unfortunately it's when the rest of the world chimes in that things get very complicated.

  16. couchpotatocritic: Thanks! Well, he was - wasn't he? A glorious twerp with a will of steel. Good combo.

  17. Great list, Yvette. This will have me thinking all day.

  18. Bill: I've recently been hearing Nevil Shute's name here and there. I remember ON THE BEACH and I recently (last year, I think) read A TOWN LIKE ALICE which I enjoyed.

    I've never read the title you mention though. I'll have to check on it. Thanks for the tip.

  19. Jane and Lance: I've heard of the play you mention, but have never read it or seen it performed. I also believe it was a film - in the 40's, maybe.

    I think I'll look it up. Thanks!

  20. Patti: Thanks! Yes, we are activating the 'little gray cells' with these memes. That's what I love about 'em. Fun.

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  22. Great list, some I know, some I still need to meet.

  23. carolsnotebook: Thanks, and thanks for dropping by. I hope you find at least one or two new characters you may want to read about. :)

  24. I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't care for THE HELP. I found it incredibly self-congratulatory and condescending, another one of those books where the generations-long struggle for civil rights and human dignity gets shunted aside for the reader to be able to bask in how much understanding the plight of black people allowed a white person to blossom. Please!

  25. Deb: I think we're on the same page re: THE HELP. It just made me very uneasy -the whole thing.

    Though having said that, I still listed Aiblileen and Minny front and center.

  26. Glad to see some opinions that differ from the ones I've heard and read.

    Friends who are African-American have no interest in reading The Help, are put off by the title and by the dialect of the African-American characters and the stereotypes.

    Also, there was an article in the New York Times a few months ago about an employee of a relative of the author's who is protesting the use of a facsimile of her name, her personal history and her appearance being used for a character in the book without her knowledge or permission.

    So all of that puts me off and I won't read it.

    I hear there is a movie coming out, and I hope it isn't condescending or stereotypical, but it's Hollywood-made.

  27. Kathy: Yes, there's some kind of behind the scenes turmoil going on. Maybe there's a lawsuit in the works, too.

    The movie's not for me.

  28. Atticus! Of course!(Kicking self for forgetting this amazing and wonderful rebel)

  29. Deb Nance: Well, that's okay, as long as some of us included him. :)


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