In moments of quiet contemplation we like (ok, like probably isn’t the right word – pick something closer to despair) to reflect upon why it is that we’re not a world famous author penning state-of-the-nation novels that change society irrevocably.
One week ago, reality hit us square in the jaw as we took a razor blade to our jaw. We were sans moustache. It suddenly dawned on us that the greatest novelists had to a man – and it’s the male of the species we’re talking about here as should be obvious – all sported variants of the much maligned mouth brow.
So, while we set about growing a rather dazzling and jaunty ‘tache, let us pay homage to the 30 greatest literary moustaches. Inspiration can be located in each and every one’s furry whiskers as we proclaim that our masterpiece is just a pencil-thin moustache away.
(Images: Rex Features)
Distinguished, dignified, dashing… the controversial author of The Satanic Verses can accept all these adjectives for his facial fuzz. Rushdie clearly knows his literary history and wants to maintain its finest traditions. Good work, Salman.
The author born Samuel Langhorne Clemens is often referred to as the godfather of American literature. His fulsome ‘tache was as full of character as his, erm, colourful characters – Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and the like – and clearly had an abiding influence on those writers that followed him.
This picture of Dickens was taken in New York in 1868, just two years before his death. His muzzy by then displayed a veritable appreciation for noble leanings – allied to his salt and pepper beard. Clearly denoting an exalted presence, it demanded attention – much like his books.
Slovenly chic might be all the rage round East London, but have the hipsters of E8 got the writing chops to back up their boho affectations? Of course not. Russian genius Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, on the other hand, penned the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. If his facial hair could talk and all that…
Maverick iconoclast he may have been, but Ernest Hemingway was a keen upholder of certain bookish traditions – chiefly the sporting of a moustache. In later years, he combined it with a beard, but it was his lip hat that marked Hemingway out as a real man of letters. Honestly.
For all his heavyweight-writing prowess, George Orwell resembled a feeble individual. His moustache didn’t help: the cross between a spiv-like tuft of hair and the remnants of some sticky foodstuff. This is one example not to be emulated – remember Big Brother is watching you.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Some would have it that the creator of Sherlock Holmes’s moustache is nothing short of lamentable. Not us. For located in his dandy-like twist at each end is the secret of Doyle’s success – it takes an imaginative leap to pull such a look off, and he replicated this daring feat with Holmes. Elementary really.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, among others, is one of the most beguiling writers of recent times. His work takes readers into fantastical realms of fiction – his ‘tache on the other hand is stoic, traditional and honest. A coincidence? Hardly.
Now here’s something of a conundrum. On first glance, James Joyce’s face furniture looks slightly incongruous – a bit like Orwell’s pallid effort. And then, it begins to unravel its secrets: the ‘tache is a solid fixture in Joyce’s otherwise constantly shifting world. It is, in essence, a balance to his oft-impenetrable novels.
Oh, we like this one. We like this one a lot. Often, in an example of creative tension no doubt, the moustaches we are discussing here sit uneasily on the lips of those in question. But Kipling’s is as comforting his much-loved Jungle Book – it just belongs. It’s man and moustache in perfect harmony.
Whereas Dostoevsky’s beard is at once wispy and gregarious, his drooping moustache is resolute. If there’s an enigmatic aesthetic at play here, what do you expect from the man who penned such robust classics as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov?
Baffling man, baffling moustache. And yet, we dig big time. Who wants to be the first to pay homage? Tom Selleck is pretty close.
Want to win the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction? Twice? How about the Nobel Prize in Literature? You do? Ok, here’s what you do: you ape the no-nonsense gravitas inferred in William Faulkner’s mouth brow. That quiet solemnity is something to aspire to, agreed? Agreed.
As well as being one of France’s greatest writers, Gustave Flaubert took being stylish very seriously. The man who penned the unforgettable Madame Bovary cultivated his moustache over many years, and though it sometimes gave him the unfortunate appearance of a walrus, you have to admit it’s one fashionable walrus.
Vonnegut’s books – not least the iconic Slaughterhouse-Five – were rhapsodic works rich in humour and satire. We like to think his entry into the Literary Moustache Hall of Fame, as we’ve just called it, is equally sardonic.
Ok, look, we might as well end this debate here once and for all. We won’t of course, because like the great Bard we want to go on and on and on. Ol’ Billy Boy is arguably the greatest writer the English language has ever known. He sported a mo – go figure, as people far cooler than us like to say.
Just look at the flourish on that. ShortList is still scarred by reading Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd at school, when it seemed the great man took three pages to describe the grass as being green. If we’d known he sported such a dazzling ‘tache we’d have paid closer attention. Fine work, Thomas. Fine work indeed.
Conrad’s books are lessons in the dark underbelly of the human condition – see The Secret Agent and the inspiration for Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness. His moustache is less cryptic than his books, but it certainly suggests a rugged masculinity.
If you want to be taken seriously in literary circles going hirsute is the only prudent path to follow. The author of the magnificent Moby Dick certainly took this on board. Look at him – a dashing young buck who forsook a life of fast fillies and boisterous booze for sombre writing skills. Perhaps.
Much like his profound Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s face furniture was not to be messed with. Short, sharp and sculpted to within an inch of perfection, this moustache delivers a knock out blow.
In his later years Gilbert Keith Chesterton was something of an avuncular and portly looking chap. His salad days were just that, however – he was a confident and jaunty young man. No wonder he was described as the Prince of Paradox. His one companion as he crossed this personal Rubicon was his moustache. We wonder why.
W Somerset Maugham
Novelist W. Somerset Maugham once quipped that to eat well in Britain one should eat breakfast three times a day. We assume this is why he adopted such an adhesive lip toupee – to stick the odd rasher of bacon or fried egg in there for later enjoyment. How else would you explain it?
H G Wells
If any of you are still holding any doubts to the literary power of the moustache surely the inclusion of H.G. Wells in this pantheon of writing greats should dispel your concerns. For hidden deep in the fiery whiskers of Wells’s lip cap was the tumultuous tales of The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau. Come on, people. Get with it.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Coming on like a particularly elegant cowboy, Robert Louis Stevenson’s moustache was a fine thing indeed. Imagine his face without it – weedy, non-descript, ashen… With his nose neighbour he vaulted into the public’s imagination with his enduring classics Treasure Island and Kidnapped.
What came first, Dashiell Hammett’s Christian name or his splendid and graceful way with style? Whatever, his moustache was a welcome addition to his well-designed oeuvre. As was his majestic detective Sam Spade (later played with such panache by Humphrey Bogart – despite his lack of a mouth brow).
Writer, thinker, activist… Emile Zola sported many hats during his long, distinguished and oftentimes controversial life, and we like to think we know the secret to his colourful success. Yep, his misplaced eyebrow. Just cast your eyes upon his mo – look at the knowledge stored in there. Deeply impressive.
Honoré de Balzac
The capacious Honoré de Balzac occupies a lofty position in French literature. A massive – in every sense – influence upon the likes of Proust, Flaubert and Zola, not to mention William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Edgar Allen Poe (it says here), what did they all take from him? Correct, his fondness for a smoke filter.
Where would the refined Marcel Proust have been without his moustache? Well, one can only surmise… but, with his upturned collection of furry hair jauntily placed above his top lip, the author of In Search of Lost Time, took the literary world by storm in the early 20th Century. Again, certainly no coincidence.
What does Sebastian know that so many present writers don’t? His moustache might not be as florid as that of his whiskery predecessors, but the presence of bristle is telling. This is a novelist who wants to be taken seriously.
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allen Poe was the first to tread where so many American authors would so gladly follow. His moustache was evidence of this. Twain, Hemingway, Vonnegut and co would all gladly enter the door marked ‘Moustachioed Literary Geniuses Enter This Way Please’. Granted, it was a big door.