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Literary police sketches

Adding images to classic words

Literary police sketches

Ask any adaptation-hating book purist and they'll tell you that one of the great joys of reading is the ability to form your own idea of how the characters look, without having dictatorial Hollywood in charge.

Well, chances are they might hate to love Brian Joseph Davis a bit then. He's scoured some classic books for the physical descriptions of the protagonists and created police sketch-like images of what the details suggest.

It's all painstakingly awesome stuff, which highlights how brilliant the casting of James Mason was in the original Lolita and how un-Michael Fassbender-y the actual Rochester looked in Bronte's Jane Eyre.

The following pictures are also accompanied by the details he used from the novels themselves.

You can see more of his sterling work here.

Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

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.

Vaughn, Crash, JG Ballard

His exhausted face, with its scarred mouth…As his pock-marked jaws champed on a piece of gum I had the sudden feeling that he was hawking obscene pictures around the wards…But what marked him out was the scar tissue around his forehead and mouth, residues of some terrifying act of violence…Heavy black hair…Broken and re-set nose bridge…His features looked as if they had been displaced laterally, reassembled after the crash from a collection of faded publicity photographs. The scars on his mouth and forehead, the self-cut hair and two missing upper canine gave him a neglected and hostile appearance…His hard mouth, with its scarred lips, was parted in a droll smile.

Humbert Humbert, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

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, London Fields, Martin Amis

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.

Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Mr. Rochester, his foot supported by the cushion; he was looking at Adèle and the dog: the fire shone full on his face. I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair. I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw—yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake. His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonised in squareness with his physiognomy…My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth.

Pinkie Brown, Brighton Rock, Graham Greene

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.

Emma Bovary, Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

She was pale all over, white as a sheet; the skin of her nose was drawn at the nostrils, her eyes looked at you vaguely. After discovering three grey hairs on her temples, she talked much of her old age…Her eyelids seemed chiseled expressly for her long amorous looks in which the pupil disappeared, while a strong inspiration expanded her delicate nostrils and raised the fleshy corner of her lips, shaded in the light by a little black down.

Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

…Combed his light-brown hair neatly in front of the mirror, and set off for Radio City. He had always thought he had the world’s dullest face, a thoroughly forgettable face with a look of docility that he could not understand, and a look also of vague fright that he had never been able to erase. A real conformist’s face, he thought…Really it was only his darker hair that was very different from Dickie. Otherwise, his nose—or at least its general form—his narrow jaw, his eyebrows if he held them right…He wasn’t really worried. Tom had at first amused himself with an eyebrow pencil—Dickie’s eyebrows were longer and turned up a little at the outer edges—and with a touch of putty at the end of his nose to make it longer and more pointed, but he abandoned these as too likely to be noticed. The main thing about impersonation, Tom thought, was to maintain the mood and temperament of the person one was impersonating, and to assume the facial expressions that went with them. The rest fell into place…He might play up Tom a little more, he thought.