It’s always exciting when a character surprises you, and ends up being completely different from how you thought they’d be. Whether it’s a classic rags to riches story, or a good guy gone bad (or vice versa), character reinvention can really make a novel what it is. Let’s have a look at some of my favourites.
A piece on character reinvention would be nothing without looking at J. K. Rowling’s complex Severus Snape. We start the Harry Potter series hating Snape almost as much as we hate Voldemort. He is greasy, mean and sinister, making potions in the dungeons; the dreaded bane of student life at Hogwarts. He sides with slimy Slytherin whenever possible and you become convinced that he must be on the side of the Dark Lord.
Yet it transpires that he is the most brave and loyal servant of Dumbledore’s of the lot. You don’t find out until the very end that he risked his life over and over again by acting as a spy for the good side. He plays the part so well he fools us all, characters and readers alike, and by the end we feel guilty for hating him all this time. We could all learn a little from Severus’ painstaking faithfulness and courage.
And then we have Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, the protagonist of the famous book of the same name. She begins the novel as a meek and mild woman, unhappily married to her egocentric cousin, Camille. Thérèse lives an uninteresting and frankly depressing life running a shop in the back streets of Paris, each day as dull as the last. This is until she meets Laurent, a friend of Camille’s, who changes Thérèse’s life dramatically. They enter into a sordidly passionate affair, one you would never expect Thérèse capable of. Her life becomes one of danger, passion and murder, a far cry from the mundane life she lived at the beginning of the novel. Zola truly brings her out of her shell, which is both exciting and terrifying.
Perhaps one of the most famous and classic character reinventions of all time is that of Mr Darcy. Many of you are probably bored of hearing about how wonderful he is, and how all women swoon over him, but at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice he is nothing short of an arse. He is rich, arrogant, demeaning of Elizabeth and downright supercilious. Over time, he realises his love for Elizabeth, but the gap between their social status still bothers him.
Eventually, Darcy reveals himself as loyal, trustworthy and truly decent. It is this hidden decency that makes the reader fall in love with him, much as they eventually do with Severus Snape. There’s nothing quite like a love-hate relationship, and a complex character who keeps his brilliance hidden beneath the surface.