February 15, 2012
SLIDESHOW: What would Humbert Humbert’s ‘Wanted’ poster have looked like?
by Ellie Robins
Here’s an idea you’ll wish you’d had yourself: framing your favourite literary characters as criminals at large. New Tumblr The Composites runs descriptive passages from works of fiction through police composite imaging software. See a selection of our favourites below; who’d’ve thunk a software package could so accurately interpret The Maltese Falcon‘s Sam Spade looking ‘rather pleasantly like a blond Satan’, or London Fields‘s Keith Talent looking like a murderer’s dog? Uncanny.
Pinkie Brown from Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock
He had a fair smooth skin, the faintest down, and his grey eyes had an effect of heartlessness like an old man’s in which human feeling has died…Grey inhuman seventeen-year-old eyes…From behind he looked younger than he was in his dark thin ready-made suit a little too big for him at the hips, but when you met him face to face he looked older, the slatey eyes were touched with the annihilating eternity from which he had come and to which he went…The eyes which had never been young stared with grey contempt into…The eyes which had only just begun to learn a thing or two…In the tipped mirror on the washstand he could see himself, but his eyes shifted quickly from the image of smooth, never shaven cheek, soft hair, old eyes…’They nearly got me too,’ and he raised his bandaged hand to his scarred neck.
Sam Spade, from Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon
Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down—from high flat temples—in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.
Humbert Humbert, from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
Gloomy good looks…Clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice…broad shoulder…I was, and still am, despite mes malheurs, an exceptionally handsome male; slow-moving, tall, with soft dark hair and a gloomy but all the more seductive cast of demeanor. Exceptional virility often reflects in the subject’s displayable features a sullen and congested something that pertains to what he has to conceal. And this was my case…But instead I am lanky, big-boned, wooly-chested Humbert Humbert, with thick black eyebrows…A cesspoolful of rotting monsters behind his slow boyish smile…aging ape eyes…Humbert’s face might twitch with neuralgia.
Keith Talent, from Martin Amis’s London Fields
Keith didn’t look like a murderer. He looked like a murderer’s dog. (No disrespect to Keith’s dog Clive, who had signed on well before the fact, and whom Keith didn’t in the least resemble anyway.) Keith looked like a murderer’s dog, eager familiar of ripper or body snatcher or gravestalker. His eyes held a strange radiance -for a moment it reminded you of health, health hidden or sleeping or otherwise mysteriously absent. Though frequently bloodshot, the eyes seemed to pierce. In fact the light sprang off them. And it wasn’t at all pleasant or encouraging, this one-way splendour. His eyes were television. The face itself was leonine, puffy with hungers, and as dry as soft fur. Keith’s crowning glory, his hair, was thick and full-bodied; but it always had the look of being recently washed, imperfectly rinsed, and then, still slick with cheap shampoo, slow-dried in a huddled pub Ч the thermals of the booze, the sallowing fagsmoke. Those eyes, and their urban severity…Like the desolating gaiety of a fundless pediatric hospital (Welcome to the Peter Pan Ward), or like a criminal’s cream Rolls-Royce, parked at dusk between a tube station and a flower stall, the eyes of Keith Talent shone with tremendous accommodations made to money. And murder? The eyes – was there enough blood in them for that? Not now, not yet. He had the talent, somewhere, but he would need the murderee to bring it out.
Tess, from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles
She was a fine and handsome girl—not handsomer than some others, possibly—but her mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to colour and shape… The pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was native had hardly as yet settled into its definite shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one upward, when they closed together after a word…Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along to-day, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes…a thick cable of twisted dark hair hanging straight down her back to her waist.
Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.