I said it was an old standard. I didn't say it was easy to answer.
Picking your favorite character is about like picking your favorite book, isn't it? When people ask me for a favorite book I always have to narrow it down to five. I can almost do five. I mean I still feel like I'm giving an award acceptance speech and forgetting half the people who are important to me, but it's better than one.
I have lots and lots of favorite characters, and I could tell you something about all of them, about the thing that makes me appreciate them more than the others around them. I could tell you about what makes them special compared to all the other fictional people living in my head, or about what makes them stand out.
But the point of these posts is to showcase good writing, and I'm the first to admit 'technically good writing' and 'writing I like' aren't generally the same thing. So maybe the better question is, which character stands out the most, with the least amount of imaginary leg-work from me?
That one I can do, easily. It's hands-down, always been Mr Bennet. Austen doesn't tell us a lot about the patriarch of the Bennet family--although in all honesty one of the better joys of her writing is that she doesn't tell us a lot about anyone. But something about his personality just leaps off the page for me. Every detail we get of him through dialogue or reaction is another brush-stroke in her creation of this spectacular, unusual, flawed man.
He loves his daughters,even when he doesn't know what to do with them. He loves his wife, somehow. He makes the best decisions he can for his family, knowing there probably aren't any right ones, knowing he can't do better for them no matter how much he wishes he could. He still buries himself in his library to avoid the people he loves. He makes selfish decisions sometimes, but he admits when he's done wrong and acknowledges his own short-comings. He feels real to me in a way so many characters holding his place-card in a story do not.
When we talk about characters we always say things about how it's their flaws, it's their realness as human beings that draws us in, and we wish for more of that. Except I don't think we do, not really. We want them to be flawed in ways we can forgive. Mr Bennet with his sarcasm and avoidance, his doting on his favorite daughter; we're okay with these flaws. But a heroine who doesn't stand up tall and hit every feminist button she can reach is almost automatically a cipher, or the writer's views on women leaking through.
And I'm not saying she is or isn't, or that a hero with a god-complex isn't a Marty-Sue and the authors pathetic attempt at living out his dreams of daring-do. I suppose I'm trying to say that characters--good characters--should require the same tolerance investment out of us real people do, rather than a snap decision based on cover art and tag-lines.
Can you imagine what modern publishing would have done with Pride and Prejudice?