Costumes of National Literary Characters

Figure 1.--One of the mot beloved boy characters in literature is J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. The inspiration for Peter was Barrie's brother who died at a young age, and the boys of friends that Barrie cared for.

Many famous liteary characters are boys. Authors have used boys for the central characters. Many novels are set around their experiences. Some like Oliver Twist become rather passive observers of the events which swirl around them, but in any many cases like Tom Sawyer they are active participants shaping their destiny. Interestingly some of the most famous are 19th century novels and these characters are every bit as relevent to us in our modern age even though they liked television, Walkmans, and CDs. We have collected information of some of the most famous national characters. Some are from great works of literature. Other important national characters are from more mundane children's literature, but may be some of the most endearing national characters. Interestingly, most of the most famous boy characters in literature are American and English.


Many famous liteary characters are boys, especially in American literature. Many American novels are set around a boy's experiences or have boys as important characters. The costuming of these characters, especially the contemporary books, offer important insights into historic costuming. This is especially true of the books with illustrations. Less useful, but more available, are modern books written with histoical settings or recent editions of historical books with modern illustrations. Perhaps the archtype boy hero in all literature is Tom Sawyer. Some of the major American boys in literature are: Harvey Cheyne (Captain's Coureageous), Patrick Dennis (Auntie Mame), Cedric Erol (Little Lord Fauntleroy), Jim Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Huckleberry Finn, and Penrod Schofield), and Tom Sawyer. Some suggest that Mark's Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the greatest American novel.


We know of no famous boy characters in Belgian literature. There have been some comic strips. The most famous of course is Tintin. Tintin was a popular fictional French character in rather large, elaborate comic books. The format of these books was that of the Asterix series. Tintin appeared to be about age 15/16, and he was set in the mid to late 1930's. He was a juvenile detective. He typically wore a knickers, with a sweater vest and bow tie. Tintin's creator, Hergé, was Belgian. Tintin first appeared in 1929 and became a regular feature in 1946. Brussels and the French-speaking provinces of Belgium (known as Wallonia) have a rich tradition of comic-strip heroes; one guide book states that frescoes or murals of these characters can be found in virtually every city in this region. Some of the these characters, such as Lucky Luke (an American cowboy depicted by a Belgian cartoonist)m however, don't seem insightful for clothing styles for the HBC website.


We do not know of any Canadian boy chaeacters of note. There is of course a well known girl characters--Anne. She irst apeared in Anne of Green Gables. And like many child characters she was an orphan.


English aithors like Americans have created many memorable boy characters. It is surprising how many memorab;e boy characters English writers have created and how few have been created by other European writers. Some of the most memorable are: Tom Brown (Tom Brown's School Day), William Brown (Just William), Billy Bunter, David Copperfield, Jim Hawkins (Treasure Island), John Christopher Timothy. Jennings, Peter Pan, Philip "Pip" Pirrip (Great Expectations), Harry Potter, Christopher Robin, Oliver Twist, Kim, and David Balfour (Kidnapped). Images of these boys have been provide in the text and illustrations of the originial editions as wll as subsequent illustrators and more recently movie and TV productions. This is especially the case of these English boy characters as there have been so many new editions and well as movie and TV productions.


I have limited information on boys in French literature. This may well be because of my inability to speak French. We know of several books with boy characters. I do not know, however, of any important French boy literarty character. Some of our French visitors have provided some details to HBC. It appears while there have been books written about French boys, both adult books and children's books. As far as we can determine, however, nome of these characters have arisen to the cultural status that American and British boyhood characters like Oliver Twist or Tom Sawyer acieved. Perhaps our French readers can take issue with this or confirm it. HBC is not sure why there is such a difference in English and French literature.


A German source indicated that he was impressed with Struwelpeter as a boy. He also read Wilhelm Busch's Max and Mortiz stories as a boy. A German reader writes, "The most internationally well-known novel written in German about a child is Johanna Spyri's Heidi. Of course Heidi is a girl and Swiss, not German. I know of no book about a boy in German that even appraoches Heidi in popularity." There are also some fairry tale characters such as "Hansel and Grettle".


Literature describe boy clothes (especially childrens books). One of the most famous books for children is "Trelantonis" (Crazy Anthony) by Penelope Delta, first published in 1932. Delta wrote books for children that had historical settings. O Trelantonis is set in Greece during the 1910s. The main character is Antonis a very mischevious 10-year-old boy. According to the descriptions in the book and the various drawing Antonis is always dressed in a sailor suit with short pants just below the knee. His little brother Alexandros (about five years old) still wears dresses. His older cousin Giannis (about 12-year old) wears a sailor suit with long trousers. His other two cousins aged 5-9 years old wear sailor suits with shorts.


We know absolutely nothing about Indian children's literature at this time. There is a rich traditiional (pre-British) literature in India. We do know if there are any important boy characters. We do know some important Indian boy characters, but the ones we know have been created by foreign authors. The most famous is surely Kim, but of course he was an English boy created by Rudyard Kipling. And Indian boy he also created was Mowgli, another very famous boy character. Another boy character created by a foreign author is Chendru. Actually he appears to have been a real boy with a fictional story built around him. The man cub Mowgli Kippenger created in The Jungle Book is an India boy, but as written he is totaly devoid of human culture meaning the absence of any Indian cultural setting. Hopefully our Indian readers will provide some insights into boy characters in Indian literature.


We do not know of many boy characters in Italian literature, but there are a few. The one Itlalian classic I know of is of course "The Adventures of Pinocchio. The Story of a Puppet". It is surely the best known Italian novel for children. The author is Carlo Collodi (pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini). He was born in Florence in 1826 and died there in 1890. Pinocchio was published in Florence (1883). In the Tuscan dialect, pinocchio is the term used to refer to the pine nut. The novel as most children know is the story of a puppet that becomes a child. Another children's book very popular in Italy is "Cuore" (Heart) by Edmondo De Amicis (1846-1908). "Heart" (1888) is the story of a 3rd grade primary school class from the first to the last school day. The novel is written as the diary of a pupil (Enrico Bottini). In the novel we have also nine little stories that the teacher (Mr. Perboni) tells to the pupils. Perhaps the best known of these stories is "From the Apennines to the Andes". It is the story of Marco who travels from Genoa to Argentina looking for his mother. (Many Itaklians un the late-19th and early-20th centuries emigrated to Argentina.) A Japanese cartoon (52 installments) was inspired by this story (1976).


The Japanese have a rich modern history of boy heroes, mostly within the context of Manga (comic books), arising out of World War II. They are mostly coming of age stories with the superheoric elements. One reader writes, "These Manga are some of the best written pieces of fiction today, for they explore the complex nature of childhood and "man" (good vs. evil, morality, social sciences, etc)."

(The) Netherlands

The obvious Dutch boy character I know of is Hans Brickle. The Dutch writer Piet Prins authored many novels for young people in the 1950s-1970's having boy heros. One which has been translated into English is the story of a 13 year old boy in Holland during WW II who helped the Dutch Resistance hide downed RAF fliers from the Nazis. In one scene, the author describes the hero as wearing shorts like all the other boys his age, "since the honor of receiving their first pair of long pants is accorded to boys on their 14th birthday." A populat book about a Dutch boy was "Ciske de Rat". Another popular boyhood account is Erich Kästners Als ich ein kleiner Junge war.


The only major Polish boy character I know of is the boy in Thomas Mann's novel Death in Venice. Mann provides description on how this wealthy Polish boy was dressed at the turn of the 20th century. Sailor suits were apparently very poopular. Of course this is German and not Polish literature. Hopefully our Polish readers can tell us something about Polish readers.


I do not know any Russian boy characters. During the Soviet era one boy was famous for turning in his parents yo the police. I think that there was also a boy in the resistance. I do not know, however, of a famous boy in literature. There is of course "Peter and the Wolf", but Peter is more a fable than a literary character.


I am aware of at least one rather popular and current boy character in Spanish children's lit. He is called Manolo and is overwieght. He wears glasses as well and is called MANOLO GAFOTOS or four eyes. A movie was just made of one of the stories and it is a delight.


The only Swiss book I know of is Johanna Spyri's Heidi. Of course Heidi is a girl. There is a goatheard named Peter in the story The book was written in German and can thus be classified in the German literary tradition. Of course a sizeable part of the Swiss population is German-speaking. There is one boy in Swiss folk lore daring from the 13th centuryy that is well known. He is the son of William Tell. At the time parts of Switzerland were under Austrian (Hapsburg) rule. The Austrian governor of a town made William Tell shoot an apple off his son's head when Tell angered the govenor. Most historians now believe that Tell is a fictitious person, but the story is set in the very real resistance to Hapsburg rule that gave rise to the Swiss Confederation.


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Created: May 20, 2002
Last updated: 4:49 AM 1/27/2011