Vey iz mir.
January 31, 2013 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Bookish Mefites, help me come up with a list of literary sad sacks.

Who are the most famously self-pitying characters in literary history? Someone you can kind of laugh at/with, not the really tragic type a la "Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne."

I'm also not looking for badasses like Ahab or Milton's Satan - maybe more like the narrator in "Notes from the Underground" or someone like that. A Walter Mitty type, maybe (have never read it so I don't know if he's what I'm looking for). Or the office nebbish, but definitely not the one in "The Office" who blows everything up at the end.

There must be SOMEONE from Dickens but no one comes to mind.
posted by Currer Belfry to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
In Dickens, my favorite sad sack is Mr. Micawber (David Copperfield), who really should be self-pitying as he flops in every endeavor, and who is fun to laugh with/at.

I'd also vote for Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, whose insistence on taking the path to misery is somehow terribly funny.
posted by bearwife at 3:14 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Adrian Mole in many of his "diaries" by Sue Townsend.
posted by zoetrope at 3:18 PM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Rudolph in Thomas Bernhard's Concrete.
posted by perhapses at 3:22 PM on January 31, 2013

I immediately thought of Philip Carey, who haplessly follows a manipulative waitress around for much of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:22 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could take a look at The Eeyore on TV Tropes for ideas. There are a few related tropes linked there as well, like the Woobie, the Sour Supporter, etc.

It's a little light on examples from proper literature but it may give you a starting point.
posted by bcwinters at 3:23 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Uriah Heep, a 'umble man".
posted by Ideefixe at 3:28 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ignatius, A Confederacy Of Dunces
posted by ansate at 3:39 PM on January 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

Ushikawa in "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" pretty much never speaks without feeling sorry for himself, though he's also a lackey to the villain and a pretty awful person.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:40 PM on January 31, 2013

Gimpel the Fool
posted by drlith at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2013

Marvin the paranoid android.
posted by vasi at 3:47 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

The protagonist of The Ask
posted by grobstein at 3:54 PM on January 31, 2013

More or less any Gary Shteyngart protagonist.
posted by grobstein at 3:55 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Define 'literature', because Harold Lauder in The Stand counts.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:17 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

The protagonist of A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley, is the finest example of this type in contemporary literature.
posted by escabeche at 4:32 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Osamu Dazai" in Dazai's short fiction. No Longer Human is more serious than what you're looking for, but the short pieces where he miserables around Tokyo and Mt. Fuji are pretty funny.

Miss Bartlett in A Room with a View uses self-pity to annoy everyone around her.

John Self from Money and Samson Young from London Fields
posted by betweenthebars at 4:48 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Barney Panofsky from Barney's Version.
posted by barnoley at 5:06 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

The younger daughter Mary in Pride and Prejudice.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:09 PM on January 31, 2013

As far as I'm concerned, the urtext here is Bartleby the Scrivener.
posted by OmieWise at 6:09 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

There seems to be one of these in every novel by George MacDonald Fraser - the most famous being Private McAuslan.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:35 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

The main dude in V., who is repeatedly described as a shlemiel.
posted by grobstein at 8:14 PM on January 31, 2013

David Foster Wallace has written these guys probably a bunch of times. For example, the main character in the story "Mr. Squishy," or maybe the reporter in "The Suffering Channel."
posted by grobstein at 8:17 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Samuel Beckett's Murphy, which, in spite of its sometimes difficult or obscure stretches, features exactly this sort and is, in places, hilariously funny.
posted by Philemon at 8:26 PM on January 31, 2013

Saul Bellow's Herzog, of course.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:18 PM on January 31, 2013

Bob Slocum in [the amazing] Something Happened by Joseph Heller.

A great review of the book by Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by eunoia at 10:44 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Gummidge from David Copperfield of course! "I am a lone lorn creetur' and everythink goes contrary with me."

Also, Mary Musgrove from Persuasion: "So, you are come at last! I began to think I should never see you. I am so ill I can hardly speak. I have not seen a creature the whole morning!"
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:22 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the "A Song of Ice and Fire" (Game of Thrones) series, there is Dolorous Edd, a member of the Night's Watch and compatriot of Jon Snow.
posted by Ginesthoi at 4:28 AM on February 1, 2013

Response by poster: Well, I have about 40 new books on my to-read list now. :-)

betweenthebars: I can't believe I forgot about "poor Charlotte" from "Room With A View"! Although she does wind up playing a very important and non-self-pitying role in the plot, as I remember. So she's a good example of what I was looking for.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:07 AM on February 1, 2013

Seymour, from the graphic novel Ghost World.
posted by freeform at 8:43 PM on February 1, 2013

Schmendrick from the Last Unicorn.
posted by eleanna at 5:51 PM on February 2, 2013

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