The Best Literary “Figures” in History

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Writers get a bad rap in the looks department: if you spend your time holed up and scribbling away, you must be a scrawny, pasty artist type, mustn’t you? Not so! There are a plethora of attractive and well-formed writers, both in history and today, that completely demolish such stereotypes, and whose likenesses we’ve collected here. Now don’t get us wrong — of course we believe that the stuff in their heads is much more important that the shape of their heads (or the shape of their bodies, for that matter) but that doesn’t mean we can’t applaud them for excelling in multiple areas. Plus, it’s well past time to make literature sexy again, and if writers can replace actors as pinups in our culture of ogling, we’ll be happy campers. We’ve tried to pick some contemporary authors as well as some more classic choices, and an equal number of men and women, just to be fair to everyone. Click through to see the authors we think have the best literary figures in history, and make sure to tell us your own picks in the comments.

Colette

French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette once worked in the music halls of Paris, and in 1907 almost caused a riot (the police were called) by kissing another woman onstage during a performance of Rêve d’Égypte at the Moulin Rouge. With a figure like that, we think a riot was bound to happen, kiss or no.

Neal Cassady

In truth, Cassady is more noted for his appearances in his friends’ writing (he is the model for more than one main character in Kerouac’s novels, Ken Kesey wrote a short story about his death called “The Day After Superman Died,” he’s mentioned in Howl) than his own, though he was a poet and novelist in his own right. Not that we blame them — if we were best friends with a hunk like that, we’d put him in all our books too.

Mary Shelley

She’s trying to be coy, but no matter how demure the portrait, we know what Mary Shelly’s got hidden under that gown.

Colson Whitehead

Only the most finely figured men make it into Vogue. That’s all we’re saying.

J.K. Rowling

Perhaps it’s unfair to show this picture, as Rowling has had more opportunity than most authors to walk the red carpet in a gown, but we suspect her great figure has much more to do with her natural beauty than to any of her Harry Potter-fueled fame and success.

Ernest Hemingway

It’s no surprise that Hemingway had a rockin’ bod: not only did he win the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery in WWI when he was only eighteen, he spent his free time hunting and fishing in the wilderness, which is basically the manliest hobby we can think of. True, in his later years he started to look a little like a bear, but who’s to say we don’t like that just as well?

Sylvia Plath

Even with all we know about Plath’s crippling depression, she sure looks happy in these photos. Perhaps its because she gets to run around in that very flattering ensemble. That would put a smile on our faces too.

Sebastian Junger

Um, with his most famous book being the bestselling creative nonfiction work The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, and the fact that he directed the insanely good Restrepo, an up-close documentary about the war in Afghanistan, it’s no wonder he’s a fine male specimen. The adventurous types always are.

Jane Austen

Look at that cherubic doll-like figure! Plus, members of her family have mentioned several times that she was even more attractive than the existing art gives her credit for. With all that coupled with her obvious smarts and romantic sensibilities, we really can’t believe she was never married.

Haruki Murakami

As we all know, the man’s is a longtime long-distance runner, which will do wonders for anyone’s figure. And if you’re not convinced, consider this: could your body handle a 62-mile ultramarathon? We didn’t think so. We’ll just go on worshipping at the fitness altar of Murakami.

Clarice Lispector

It’s easy to see why so many writers, musicians and fans are obsessed with the famous Brazilian writer and journalist. American translator Gregory Rabassa once said of meeting her that he was “flabbergasted to meet that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf.”

Patti Smith

Androgyny is so in right now. And always.

Paul Auster

Sure, this picture doesn’t show off his figure as much as it could — but with Auster, we think it’s more about the attitude.

Zadie Smith

Another ex-dancer, Zadie Smith is probably the first person just about everyone thinks of when they hear the phrase “attractive contemporary author.” At least, we do.

Nick Laird

Well, it seemed only fair.

Zelda Fitzgerald

As a child, Zelda Fitzgerald had taken ballet lessons, though she eventually gave them over for more “shocking” behavior. At 27, the party girl resumed her interest in ballet and practiced for hours, eventually being invited to join the ballet school of the San Carlo Opera Ballet Company in Naples. Though now ballerinas are known for their almost painful thinness, Zelda got a trim frame and a pair of seriously powerful legs out of the deal.

James Franco

We know, we know, this feels a little bit like cheating. But, the man’s a short story writer in his own right, so we can’t hold his abject beauty against him.