Top Ten Tuesday: Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.


We have been looking at narratives at work – well, I have been trying to teach narrative during lockdown – and I generally boil down the ingredients for a narrative to three key elements: character, setting and events. If a text does not have those, I declaim earnestly to my charges, it is not a narrative text; and of those three ingredients, which do you think is the most important? Students usually suggest events; I steer them towards character. I have read and loved many stories where very little happens to great characters; but I have rarely enjoyed a book with weak characters who go through a lot of events!

But, when considering character, their job is usually rather peripheral. Which maybe says something about me: I like to think of myself as a verb rather than a noun. I am not a teacher, I am someone who teaches; I am not a writer, I am someone who writes. I am a father. Once characters start to be identified by their occupation I feel I have drifted a little into dungeons and dragons territory – not that there is anything wrong with that! And I usually am drawn to either the rogue, thief or bard roles for what it is worth!

And I have had two careers in my time on this planet: before teaching I was a lawyer, a barrister – I actually lived for a year in Lincoln’s Inn in London, in a tower albeit one made of bricks and mortar rather than ivory. So I thought I’d begin this list with a trip down memory lane through the paths of Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, flowing black robes and horsehair wigs and strange traditions no one tells you about but expects you to know – dining, not shaking hands, never asking another barrister’s name, it is a minefield of etiquette – and offer a list of literary lawyers. Particularly as I am reading The Secret Barrister at the moment.

We are, alas, easy to lampoon with our cultivated sense of distance and unapproachability, our Latin phrases and a dress sense embedded in the nineteenth century. We rarely fare well at the hands of writers – with a couple of notable exceptions

Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

How could I not include Atticus Finch – the most saintly of lawyers you would ever want to come across. Defending a black man in the courts of the white oppression of Alabama; a doting father who schools his beloved Scout and Jem – whilst allowing them a wide sense of liberty and autonomy.

Jake Brigance in A Time To Kill, John Grisham

Brigance is perhaps Atticus Finch writ small: Grisham’s novel is set in Mississippi, hot from the burning crosses of the KKK where a little girl is raped and abused, and her father – having killed the white men who brutalised his child – is on trial for murder.

And like Finch, Brigance is a white man who defends a black man in the face of racism and prejudice.

“And until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even-handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices”

Horace Rumpole in the Rumpole series by John Mortimer

Rumpole is a delight and pleasure to read and inextricably linked to the likeness of Leo McKern for those of us of a certain generation.

Irascible, unapologetically an Old Bailey Hack who “never pleads guilty” he is simultaneously a vicious parody of a certain sort of lawyer, and a loving warm hearted celebration of the legal system.

I want to hate Rumpole – there is much about him which is repellent (the cigar smoking, the fried breakfasts, the alcohol, his attitude to Hilda, “She Who Must Be Obeyed”)… but he it just so likeable!

Tulkinghorn in Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Significantly less likeable is Tulkinghorn in Bleak House, possibly my favourite Dickens novel. Tulkinghorn himself is cruel and vicious but the opening pages damn the whole institution of the law:

On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting here – as here he is – with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog. On such an afternoon some score of members of the High Court of Chancery bar ought to be – as here they are – mistily engaged in one of the ten thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up on slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running their goat-hair and horse-hair warded heads against walls of words and making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players might. On such an afternoon the various solicitors in the cause, some two or three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, who made a fortune by it, ought to be – as are they not? – ranged in a line, in a long matted well (but you might look in vain for truth at the bottom of it) between the registrar’s red table and the silk gowns, with bills, cross-bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions, affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters’ reports, mountains of costly nonsense, piled before them.

Mr Jaggers in Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Jaggers doesn’t fare much better in Great Expectations

Herr Huld in The Trial, Franz Kafka

Portia, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

Jonathan Harker, Dracula, Bram Stoker

Arthur Kipps in The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

  • March 9: Spring Cleaning Freebie (for example, books you’re planning to get rid of for whatever reason, book’s you’d like to clean off your TBR by either reading them or deciding you’re not interested, books that feel fresh and clean to you after winter is over, etc.)
  • March 16: Books On My Spring 2021 TBR
  • March 23: Funny Book Titles
  • March 30: Places In Books I’d Love to Live

15 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had”

    1. I have to confess I got to the final year of my Literature degree and was a little at a loss on what to do after… in hindsight I really wish I had stayed in academia and done a PhD… but then it is terrifying how much my life would change if I had!


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