8 fictional characters inspired by real people in the Cotswolds
- Credit: Archant
Art often imitates life in literature. From Scrooge to Long John Silver, here are 8 famous fictional characters inspired by people from around the Cotswolds.
• The eponymous Rosie in Cider With Rosie was based on Rosalind Buckland, author Laurie Lee’s distant cousin from Slad, Gloucestershire. Rosalind passed away a few days before her 100th birthday last year (2014). Read our regular columnist Mark Cummings’ recollection of the magical hour he spent with the lady who inspired one of Gloucestershire’s most famous novels.
• Long John Silver, the antagonist of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, was inspired by writer William Ernest Henley of Gloucester, himself known for penning the poem Invictus. Stevenson and Henley were good friends, and in a letter to Henley, Stevensen explained “I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver... the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”
• The Mad Hatter, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, was partly inspired by Theophilus Carter, an eccentric British furniture dealer who lived in Oxford.
Reverend W. Gordon Baillie wrote in 1935 of Carter: “...All Oxford called him The Mad Hatter, and surely his friends, or enemies, must have chaffed him about it. He would stand at the door of his furniture shop in the High, sometimes in an apron, always with a top-hat at the back of his head, which, with a well-developed nose and a somewhat receding chin, made him an easy target for the caricaturist. The story went that Mr. Dodgson (“Lewis Carroll”), thinking T. C. had imposed upon him, took this revenge. In justice to the man’s memory, I may say that I possess a carved oak armchair which I bought from him, second-hand, 50 years ago. It is as good as ever, and the price was very moderate.”
• Dick Whittington, of English folklore, was inspired by Richard Whittington, a medieval merchant, hailing from the Forest of Dean. Whittington was the Mayor of London four times, as well as a member of parliament and a sheriff of London.
The gifts left in his will made him renowned and he subsequently featured as a character in an English story adapted into a play, The History of Richard Whittington, of his lowe byrth, his great fortune, in February 1604. In the 19th century, this was turned into a pantomime called Dick Whittington and His Cat, very loosely based on Richard Whittington.
• Ebenezer Scrooge of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was purportedly based in part upon Jemmy Wood of Gloucester, born in 1756. He was known as The Gloucester Miser, who dressed shabbily and wouldn’t spend a halfpenny if he could afford it, despite being the richest commoner in the land at the time.
As Anita Faulkner explains: “The anecdotes say he would dash to the docks when they were shipping the coal in, to pocket stray lumps. There was also word that he hitched a ride from Tewkesbury to Gloucester lying in the back of a hearse, to save his wallet. He once walked to Westbury-on-Severn, where he owned some land. When he began to fill a bag with his own turnip crop, he was beaten by a farm worker who mistook him for a tramp. The story also goes that some people would heat up coins if they knew he was coming, then spread them on the floor to see if he’d pick them up.”
• Tom Brown, the eponymous protagonist of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, was based upon George Hughes, author Thomas Hughes’ brother hailing from Uffington, Oxfordshire.
Tom Brown is characterised as stubborn, conscientious, and athletic, rather than academic, following his heart rather than his head. The book became a must-have for every boy to attend boarding school.
• Prospero, the protagonist of Shakespeare’s The Tempest was possibly based on the Bard of Avon himself.
Edward Dowden, an Irish critic, wrote in 1875 of the comparisons between Prospero and Shakespeare: “We identify Prospero in some measure with Shakespeare himself... because the temper of Prospero, the grave harmony of his character, his self-mastery, his calm validity of will... and with these, a certain abandonment, a remoteness from the common joys and sorrows of the world, are characteristic of Shakespeare as discovered to us in all his latest plays.”
• Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series was based on teacher John Nettleship, who taught author J.K. Rowling at Wydean School, Gloucestershire, in the 1970s. In an interview, Rowling described Snape as “horrible”, and asserted that the “worst, shabbiest thing you can do as a teacher is to bully students.” So we can safely assume her experience learning chemistry from Mr. Nettleship was not a pleasant one.