The recent awards season makes me think about famous eccentrics, what makes them eccentric and why we find them entertaining.

I have a theory. I think many of us secretly wish we could do something a little outrageous once in a while. For instance, I love some of the crazy clothing in the Harry Potter movies but would never dare to wear anything like that except to a costume party. Maybe that’s why we love eccentrics, because they appear to be genuinely having fun living an extraordinary life without concern for appearances.

Some eccentrics ring more true to me than others. I might be wrong, but I think people like Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp are the real deal, genuinely a bit mad, and in a good way. Celebrities like Madonna and Lady Gaga (again I could be wrong) come across as more calculated, though they are entertaining in their way.

Many famous figures from the Regency could be considered eccentrics, from Prinny himself to Beau Brummell and other dandies like Poodle Byng. It’s harder for me to tell whether some of these characters donned their idiosyncrasies to get attention or whether they were as eccentric in private.

I think that many of Brummell’s shocking sayings (“Who’s your fat friend?”) were a calculated risk. However, his friend the Princess Frederica Charlotte, Duchess of York, “Freddie” to her friends, seems more of a genuine eccentric. Her marriage was unhappy and she lived in the country, at Oatlands in Surrey, lavishing affection on her pets, which included cats, dogs, birds and monkeys.

“The Duchess’s life is an odd one; she seldom has a female companion, she is read to all night and falls asleep towards morning, and rises about 3; feeds her dozens of dogs and her flocks of birds, &c., comes down two minutes before dinner, and so round again.” – Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D. F. R. S., Secretary to the Admiralty, 1818

Eccentrics in romance novels are usually secondary characters, the weird great aunt and the like. I’ve tried to think of major characters who are eccentric and came up with a few. Merlin Lambourn, the heroine from Laura Kinsale’s MIDSUMMER MOON is a brilliant inventor but seriously unworldly. I’d call Charles Harcourt, the hero from Judith Ivory’s BEAST, something of an eccentric as well.

Do you enjoy eccentrics? Which are your favorites, real, historical or fictional?

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11 years ago

Fun post!

In Miranda Neville’s The Dangerous Viscount, her heroine’s family is quite off-the-wall in a very entertaining way. The heroine’s father records visitors weight using a machine he invented. In her author’s note she said she gleaned this tidbit from her own family history, which made it even more interesting.

11 years ago

I was actually watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this morning and wondering if Helena Bonham-Carter had to act in her role.

What about the characters in Dawn Aldridge Poore’s The Mummy’s Mirror, The Brighton Burglar, and The Cairo Cats? I think all of them are quite different and eccentric. But maybe I am wrong.

Jane George
11 years ago

Love Helena Bonham Carter.

Hmmm, you’ve got me thinking about main character eccentrics… There’s Willy Wonka, and Sherlock Holmes, and Harriet the Spy and Nanny McPhee.

I think they might be more rare in romance, but Alexia Tarabotti, the heroine in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series comes to mind.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

I think Helena Bonham Carter is an extremely talented actress and yes, quite eccentric!

I would be the last person to label someone else “eccentric.” I live in the middle of nowhere in a house with bookshelves in every room, including both bathrooms and the kitchen. At one point I owned a dozen snakes (large ones) half a dozen lizards (large ones and some meat eating ones) tortoises, tarantulas, hedgehogs and ferrets. These days I have a small menagerie of dogs and cats, but my niece and nephews still adore me as “our crazy aunt in the woods.”

I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes and all of his eccentricities. And I LOVE Miranda Neville’s eccentric characters. They’re marvelous fun!

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Great post, Elena! (Louisa, that’s considered eccentric?? Sounds totally mainstream to me, in my tiny little book and pet crammed house…)

I do love HBC (Rachel, I bet she just brought her own clothes to the Harry Potter set and used them as costumes) and anyone else who just dances to their own music. I would love to see more of these characters in novels

Elena Greene
11 years ago

Anonymous and Rachel, I’ll have to add those books to the TBR list. Jane George, ditto on the Parasol Protectorate series. I do think there are fewer eccentrics as heroes and heroines of romance novels.

Louisa, you may be my favorite eccentric amongst people I actually know. 🙂

I think it’s pretty cool that I have bookshelves in every room except the bathrooms. Now you are raising the bar for me!

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

Thanks, Elena ! The bookcases I have in the bathrooms are actually glass-fronted so that I can keep moisture away from the books. However, they were a real necessity as I was running out of room! I’ve done some rearranging and as the master bedroom is the largest room in my house I am turning it into a library and writing studio and moving my bedroom to a smaller room. Once I finish the library/writing studio will have wall-to-tall bookshelves! And I will STILL probably have to have shelves in the bathrooms!

And when my niece and nephews were younger I used to bring animals to their birthday parties. The kids loved it and I got the chance to talk to them about the importance of conservation and respect for all life.

11 years ago

I have always admired people who go their own way and don’t worry what people are going to think or say about them. Most are quite harmless and don’t hurt anyone. Off hand I can’t think of any character I’ve read recently who would qualify.

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