Suspend Your Disbelief

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Police Composite sketches for literary characters

Like most readers, you probably have your own mental image of Humbert Humbert, or Emma Bovary, or the Misfit. But if you’re the kind of person who likes a visual, check out The Composites, a Tumblr site that plugs literary descriptions of characters into police composite sketch software. The results are… well, take a look below and decide for yourself.

Here’s how the police sketch program portrayed the three characters I mentioned above, along with the passages that generated them. (All images via The Composites.)

Humbert Humbert, from Lolita by 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.

Emma Bovary, from Madame Bovary, by 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.

The Misfit, from “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” by Flannery O’Connor

He was an older man than the other two. His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silver-rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn’t have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was holding a black hat and a gun…“You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!”… When he smiled he showed a row of strong white teeth…Hunching his shoulders slightly…The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking.

What do you think? Do these sketches match up with how you’d visualized these characters?

By the way, the site is accepting suggestions for characters. Who would you like to see sketched up?

Further reading:
Computers and literature: they are not always a match made in heaven.

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