Though they exist in our minds in many forms — the way we conjured them up at first reading, the way they were illustrated or the way they were portrayed on screen — many of our most famous literary characters are in fact based on real people, and have “true” faces beyond any adaptation. Or at least to some extent — at least in fiction, very few characters are true carbon copies (except Kerouac’s). After the jump, we’ve collected a few photographs of the real people behind famous literary characters to invade your memories. Click through to check them out, and since there are of course many more to add to this list, get to it in the comments.
Alice in Wonderland — Alice Liddell
It’s well known that Lewis Carroll took at least some of his inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from Alice Liddell, and that he named the title character after her. Though Lewis Carroll played with and photographed many different children, he had a special relationship with the Liddells, and Alice was his favorite. If there’s any doubt, the above image of Alice Liddell, which was taken by Lewis Carroll in 1860, when Alice was 7, was published as a miniature on the last page of the original Alice’s Adventures Underground.
Peter Pan — Michael Llewelyn Davies
Though J.M. Barrie undoubtably based all of his children — the Lost Boys, the Darlings — on the Davies family, with whom he became friends in 1897, it was Michael who was the inspiration for Peter himself. Michael was an infant at the same time Barrie was writing about the infant Peter, and over the years (and books) Barrie incorporated some of Michael’s characteristics, like his nightmares, into Peter’s character. Later on in life, Michael’s brother Nico described him as “the cleverest of us, the most original, the potential genius.” That sounds like our Peter.
Dorian Gray — John Gray
A friend (and sometime lover) of Oscar Wilde and a member of his literary circle, the boyish poet John Gray had the kind of face that allowed him to pass for a 15-year-old when he was in his mid twenties and a marked weakness for the finer things in life. After The Picture of Dorian Gray was published, not only friends but the press began to make the association, something Gray found so insulting that he sued a London publication for libel over it.
Daisy Buchanan — Ginevra King
The Great Gatsby‘s Daisy is generally considered to be a thinly veiled portrait of Fitzgerald’s first love, Ginevra King, whom he dated from 1915 to 1917 (and who we think totally looks like Mary Crowley). It was smack in the midst of their relationship, which faltered because of the difference in their social standings, that Fitzgerald wrote miserably that “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls,” a phrase that was used in the movie adaptation. King was also the inspiration for a few more of Fitzgerald’s characters, including Judy Jones in “Winter Dreams” and Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise. We can’t imagine Zelda liking all this very much.
Sherlock Holmes — Dr. Joseph Bell
Arthur Conan Doyle said that Sherlock Holmes was based on Dr. Joseph Bell, who was one of Conan Doyle’s teachers in medical school. In his autobiography, the author wrote, “I thought of my old teacher Joe Bell, of his eagle face, of his curious ways, of his eerie trick of spotting details. If he were a detective he would surely reduce this fascinating but unorganized business to something nearer an exact science.” In an 1892 letter to Bell, Conan Doyle wrote: “I do not think that [Holmes’s] analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I have seen you produce in the out-patient ward. Round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate, I have tried to build up a man who pushed the thing as far as it would go—further occasionally.” Bell was flattered to be sure, but not above sending this chiding missive to his friend — “you are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it.”
Lolita and Humbert Humbert — Sally Horner and Frank LaSalle
Though it’d be a stretch to say Dolores Haze was fully based on Sally Horner, according to Nabokov’s biographer Brian Boyd, the author studied the case while working on Lolita. He writes that Nabokov “noted newspaper reports of accidents, sex crimes and killings: “a middle-aged morals offender” who abducted fifteen-year-old Sally Horner from New Jersey and kept her for twenty-one months as his “cross-country slave,” until she was found in a southern California motel…” posing as her father just as H.H. did. Humbert even refers to the case in the book, wondering “Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?”. Basically, Hum. Basically.
Winnie the Pooh (and gang) — Winnie the Pooh (and gang)
We all know that Winnie the Pooh was based on A.A. Milne’s son Christopher Robin’s teddy of the same name, and likewise many of the other characters. But did you know that the original Winnie was named after a real bear? Winnipeg was a friendly and very playful female black bear who lived at London Zoo from 1915 until 1934. She had many admirers, including Christopher Robin, who renamed his own teddy bear from “Edward Bear” to “Winnie the Pooh” in honor of Winnipeg.
Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty – Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady
On the Road may be a standby of American literature, but Kerouac was just “scribbling” about himself and his friends living the good life. In fact, almost every single character in the novel corresponds to a real person in Kerouac’s life — if he’d had his way, he would have just used everybody’s real names.
Antonia Shimerdas — Annie Sadilek Pavelka
“Every story I have ever written,” said Willa Cather “… has been the recollection of some childhood experience, of something that touched me as a youngster.” Indeed, Cather’s young life mirrored the course of her narrator’s in My Ántonia, down to meeting a daughter of Bohemian immigrants on the Nebraskan plain. Cather once called the real Antonia “one of the truest artists I ever knew in the keenness and sensitiveness of her enjoyment, in her love of people and in her willingness to take pains.”
Anne Shirley — Evelyn Nesbit
The connection between the sprightly protagonist of Anne of Green Gables and Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbit is a purely superficial one: when Lucy Maud Montgomery was imagining the character, she cut out a picture of the model from Metropolitan Magazine (with no idea who she was) and pasted it to the wall of her bedroom as the ideal physical appearance of Anne. This is who you’re supposed to be imagining, girls.