When the government announced that the UK was going into lockdown, none of us were prepared for how much we would discover about ourselves and the people we share our space with…

But let’s imagine that instead of hunkering down with our families, partners and friends or embarking on the journey alone that we invited a character from a book into our home. Would we bake banana bread together? Or have spectacular arguments over who ate the last plums? Take a look at NCW Programme Manager Sarah Bower’s top five characters from literature that she thinks have the makings of an excellent companion and let us know if you agree!

Image: Jonathan Borba, Pexels

Marmee March

Companion rating: 9/10

I expect most visitors to our website, when asked to choose a favourite character from Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women, would go for Jo. And so, indeed, would I under normal circumstances, though I do also have a sneaking tendency to identify with Amy. But these are not normal circumstances. Imagine being in lockdown with Jo, hyperactive, hot-tempered, melodramatic Jo. Jo, moreover, who writes quickly and prolifically, which could also be an irritant to a very slow writer like me. Doesn’t bear thinking about (and Amy would just nick your favourite clothes and never do the washing up).

In lockdown, the ideal March woman has got to be Marmee. She is a dab hand with the darning needle and the embroidery frame. She knows how to make odd assortments of leftovers go a long way. She has infinite patience, and an ability to defuse family tensions second to none. I will admit her high moral tone can border on the sanctimonious but I still think she would be a soothing presence in the locked down home.

Mercutio

Companion rating: 8/10

When I was a girl studying Romeo and Juliet at school, I was seized with a powerful desire to bang the lovers’ heads together and shout, very loudly: why don’t you just run away together once Friar Lawrence has done his stuff? If you’d just thought of that simple solution we could have avoided all the tragedy. So, not my favourite Shakespeare…with one glowing exception. I adore Mercutio! There is a myth that Shakespeare killed off Mercutio because he was in danger of stealing the show from Romeo. Who knows, Shakespeare never having graced the stage at Hay to discuss his oeuvre with an intellectual giant in designer wellies?

Mercutio isn’t handsome, he isn’t a dreamy romantic hero, he’s so much more. He’s funny, witty, can see right through Romeo but loves him anyway, courageous, loyal and goes to his cruelly early death with a smile. If forced into lockdown, I think he’d adapt to circumstances with a good grace, leave his sword in the umbrella stand and learn to make an espresso martini just the way I like them.

Zuleika

Companion rating: 8/10

Zuleika is The Emperor’s Babe, eponymous heroine of Bernardine Evaristo’s 2001 novel in verse. Although her story takes place in 211AD, she is a woman for our times, a presence to remind us that there are still big questions awaiting us on the other side of Covid 19. Born ‘in the back of a shop in Gracechurch Street’, Zuleika is the daughter of economic migrants from the Sudan. They’ve made good, given her lessons in deportment and elocution and married her off to a wealthy Roman; but she is the trophy wife, young, beautiful and bored. When she meets the Emperor Septimus Severus at the theatre one night, it’s love at first sight, real love for which she will give everything she has.

Zuleika is skilled, romantic and really good at filthy puns. She has the kind of voice that’s perfect for making up stories on long evenings when the possibilities of Netflix have been exhausted. She’s also a frustrated mosaic maker, so she’d be a good crafting companion. She could teach me a new skill and I’d feel better able to hold my own among all the embroiderers, growers, picklers and devisers of combined obstacle-course-spelling-bees who currently make me feel so inadequate. When the lockdown was lifted, she’d realise she didn’t need a husband or a lover and would be free to fulfil her ambition of making mosaic street art all over London.

Grenouille

Companion rating: 6/10

The hero of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume (translated from German by John E. Woods) is far from prepossessing. Suskind warns us from the outset that his crimes are up there with those of de Sade, Saint-Just and Bonaparte all, like him, at one time or another citizens of eighteenth century Paris. And he’s very ugly to boot. To be fair, he gets the kind of start in life that might turn anyone into a monster, born under a fish market counter to a mother who really, really doesn’t want him.

Grenouille, however, has two characteristics which make him an ideal lockdown companion: his body has no odour and his nose for perfume is unrivalled. His murder victims tend to be young and beautiful, so I would feel pretty safe with him, as long as I kept all heavy ornaments out of reach, and I love the thought of sharing lockdown with someone who could go through my ragtag collection of spices, soap-ends and perfume samples and create the perfect scent. Even if Zoom doesn’t have a smell feature (yet), I’m always cheered by wearing nice perfume.

Black Beauty

Companion rating: 9/10

For anyone in lockdown with a bit of garden, or even just a park nearby, Black Beauty would be an ideal lockdown companion. He’s a handsome fellow (though a little long in the tooth and his knees aren’t what they were) with a patient and courteous nature. His sense of humour is a bit lugubrious but he has high principles and a sensible attitude to risk that would make a girl feel well-protected in an encounter with, say, a hoard of high speed cyclists on a footpath or the puffing, unmasked jogger who looms up behind you on silent Nike Airs.

OK, so Black Beauty is not completely house-trained, but he doesn’t drink, he would never question your views or pick a fight, he’d be grateful for the simplest meal, and I for one, would be equally grateful for his help with the current surfeit of carrots in my seasonal veg boxes. But the biggest bonus? As far as I’m aware, you can still hug a horse.


So… do you agree? Let us know who you would choose over on our social media channels!

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