Literature about ugliness
April 8, 2016 9:23 AM   Subscribe

In search of novels, memoirs, and other literary works where physical ugliness (NOT beauty, primarily) is a major subject/theme. Thanks!
posted by thetortoise to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Autobiography of a Face, a memoir by Lucy Grealy. Grealy's childhood bout with cancer left her very disfigured, with a third of her jaw removed.
posted by FencingGal at 9:27 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
posted by cecic at 9:29 AM on April 8, 2016

Richard III
posted by town of cats at 9:34 AM on April 8, 2016

Cyrano de Bergerac.
posted by Gelatin at 9:51 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

OH!!! Umberto Eco wrote 2 great books on the history of beauty and ugliness in art.
On Beauty
On Ugliness
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:52 AM on April 8, 2016

The Flawless Skin of Ugly People
posted by soelo at 9:58 AM on April 8, 2016

Jane Eyre is somewhat concerned with these issues, first in relation to Jane and then to Mr. Rochester.

Frankenstein, clearly.

There's a subplot in Burney's Camilla that deals with a physically disfigured female character and her marriage prospects.
posted by Bardolph at 10:08 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Truth & Beauty, novelist Ann Patchett's memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, who was a poet as well as a prose writer.

Patchett writes movingly -- and in a way that is not at all condescending or saccharine -- of how Grealy struggled to like and love herself as she underwent an endless series of surgeries with the goal of reconstructing her face.

(Truth & Beauty landed Patchett in the middle of a controversy in 2002, when the book became required reading for every incoming freshman at Clemson University in South Carolina. Patchett's article about the firestorm, "The Love Between the Two Women is Not Normal," also makes for interesting reading.)
posted by virago at 10:09 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's a kids book but Wonder.
posted by jabes at 10:09 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

This might fit the bill (though maybe not). Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.
posted by pyro979 at 10:13 AM on April 8, 2016

If I recall correctly, the main character in Uprooted thinks of herself as ugly, especially in comparison to a childhood friend.

Similarly, I think that the protagonist in Till We Have Faces considers herself ugly, especially in comparison to her younger sister.
posted by bananacabana at 10:34 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jacob Have I Loved also features a protagonist who considers herself ugly and one of the main themes is her comparisons of herself with her beautiful sister. It's a lovely old-school YA read.
posted by odayoday at 10:52 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

From the realm of musical theater - Stephen Sondheim's Passion.
posted by tmharris65 at 10:52 AM on April 8, 2016

Maybe this: The Nose, a short story by Ryƫnosuke Akutagawa, published in 1916. Full text pdf.
posted by sapagan at 10:59 AM on April 8, 2016

Kafka's The Metamorphosis. It's more of a novella, but it's all about the main character waking up one morning in an unimaginably grotesque state.
posted by mochapickle at 11:09 AM on April 8, 2016

The second half of The Once and Future King deals with Lancelot's ugliness, though it's only one of many themes.

Maybe Kobo Abe's The Face of Another, if deformation due to accident counts.
posted by babelfish at 11:21 AM on April 8, 2016

This is a theme in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil.
posted by gudrun at 11:37 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cathryn Alpert's cult, Robins-esque Rocket City.

This is terrific contemporary fiction. Ugliness is an intrinsic - but not always primary - quality of each character, who holds it in their own specific way: through the personality and behavior of the protagonist's lover, through the physical body of her road-companion, through the horrific actions of a criminal enterprise, through the broken smile of a young cashier, and more.

A very refreshing road novel/fish-out-of-water dual narrative. Some terrifically funny and poignant moments.

it begs for a screen treatment. great settings and characters.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:41 AM on April 8, 2016

James Alan Gardner has a whole SF series with this as an important subplot: the "redshirts" in a Star-Trek-ish society are always ugly, because theoretically no-one minds as much if ugly people die. They're *really good*. First one is Expendable.
posted by clew at 1:05 PM on April 8, 2016

Quoyle's ugliness features prominently, if memory serves, in The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. He's the main character, and he's fascinating.
posted by heyho at 1:19 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I second Till We Have Faces; it's a retelling of Cupid and Psyche, from the perspective of Psyche's sister, whose perception of herself as ugly is a central theme in the book.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:33 PM on April 8, 2016

I feel strange including her in this list because she doesn't use the word ugly, I would never use it to describe her, and I don't think anyone who encounters her story would ever describe her in that critical and limiting way-- but I will include her because I think seeing someone rather publicly come to terms with major changes in their appearance fits your theme, so:

Blogger Stephanie Nielson was burned in a plane crash, and her appearance changed drastically. She has published a memoir, and she has continued to blog and she sometimes discusses how she feels about the changes to her physical appearance, for instance- Do you still see me?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:58 PM on April 8, 2016

In James's Washington Square, Dr. Sloper refers to his daughter Catherine as "ugly." That is probably to do with his perception, as this essay points out. But Catherine's supposed lack of attractiveness is a huge thing in the story.
posted by BibiRose at 3:18 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Charles Burns's graphic novel Black Hole revolves around teenagers catching an STD that mutates them in grotesque, body-horror ways.
posted by ejs at 4:16 PM on April 8, 2016

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
posted by matildaben at 5:07 PM on April 8, 2016

Thomas Mann's Little Herr Friedemann, perhaps.
posted by bertran at 6:25 PM on April 8, 2016

Oh, also Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta.
posted by bertran at 6:37 PM on April 8, 2016

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 8:59 PM on April 8, 2016

Another vote for Geek Love.
posted by Become A Silhouette at 10:21 PM on April 8, 2016

Marion Halcombe, the intrepid heroine of The Woman in White is described as very ugly, although it is debatable how much that informs her character and therefore the thrust of the narrative (and her relationship with the villain, who is arguably ugly in a different way).

Lieslotte Vitzliputzli, in Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy is described as monstrous and simian-like but is also extremely seductive and, again, depending on how mythical your reading of the story is, is perhaps the most important character in the whole trilogy. (I love her:))
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:01 AM on April 9, 2016

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