Sunday 5 July 2015

On the Facial Hair of the Great Writers

From June 2009. This is what I was doing instead of revising for my first year university exams. I'd learned my lesson by the time finals came around.

For too long has literary criticism focused on the actual work that writers have produced. Such an approach is infuriatingly subjective, and has lead to unnecessary confusion and debate. A bold new method for judging a writer's work is required. One that does not require anything so complex or time-consuming as actually reading books.

Such a method has finally arrived

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to judge writers by the quality of their facial hair in the pictures of them on wikipedia.

The following list contains all the bearded writers that I have studied this year. The beards have been scored out of five using a rigorously scientific system. And yes, I do realise the irony of doing this with a beard as rubbish as mine.

Charles Dickens (2/5)
There's certainly a lot of hair there, but it does look like someone planted a tree on his chin. This is the beard of a man who couldn't be bothered to shave.

Thomas Hardy (4/5)
This is about as good as a solitary moustache can be. It's half-way between neat control and mysterious wild animal.

Alfred Lord Tennyson (3/5)
Its a shame really – Tennyson's beard on his wikipedia page is solid but unspectacular. If, however, you do a search for him on google images, you get a wide array of glorious 5/5 beards. If only they'd chosen a different picture for him, Tennyson could have been a truly great writer.

Robert Browning (4/5)
This is a very impressive beard, and almost gets full marks. The problem is, a hell of a lot of Victorians were also going for the massive full beard look, and even though Browning achieves it better than them, he's not being very original.

Thomas Carlyle (3/5)
He looks a bit like a wistful Father Christmas, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Matthew Arnold (1/5)
Oh God No. Arnold has attempted to go for Big Victorian Sideburns, but has ended up with something terrifyingly misshapen. It looks a little bit like a Tropical Rainforest is trying to sneak in under his nose.

John Stuart Mill (2/5)
More Big Victorian Sideburns, and much less offensive than Matthew Arnold's. Although the proudness with which they're displayed in the Wikipedia picture is a little unnecessary.

Robert Louis Stevenson (4/5)
The message of this moustache: “SCOTTISHNESS!”.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/5)
A weird, pompous, circus ringleader moustache, and evidence that going for the Thomas Hardy look is much more difficult than it appears.

John Meade Falkner (2/5)
A rather fussy little moustache, which makes him look a bit like a civil servant in a fascist government of the 1930s.

H.G. Wells (3/5)
A moderately flamboyant piece of moustachery, but not as impressive as some.

Bram Stoker (2/5)
Its a beard that fills one with nothing but mild boredom. If you look away from it for a few minutes, you'll forget what it looks like. It is a beard of mild apathy, and quiet dullness.

George Henry Lewes (4/5)
Lewes was a Serious man, who wrote about how Serious realism was the only way to make Serious art and create Serious social change. He lived with, and eventually married, the very Serious George Eliot, and they sat around being Serious together. Which makes it something of a surprise that his face looks like a party in a hair factory. He's genuinely the most bizarre looking man on this list, and I urge you to look at him now.

Charles Darwin (5/5)
This isn't just a beard, this is an icon. Darwin would have no difficulty sneaking in to a Wizards' convention, but the mere sight of the hair-flood on his face immediately brings to mind the grandeur of science.

Charles Lyell (2/5)
The third and final case of Big Victorian Sideburns. Again, they're nowhere near as disturbing as Matthew Arnold's, but there isn't much in the universe that is.

James Joyce (3/5)
Competently done Russianish thing, but its unlikely to provoke any strong reactions either way.

George Bernard Shaw (5/5)
This isn't just the best beard on the list, this is the best beard in history. Even Gandalf is jealous. Forget the dodgy politics and the irritating didacticism, this beard means that Shaw is History's Greatest Writer.

Joseph Conrad (5/5)
Proof that you don't need a vast amount of hair for a five-star beard, Conrad's beard may be slightly odd, but its also so sharply controlled that it begins to seem intimidating.

Henry James (3/5)
I despise Henry James. I absolutely loathe his work. It makes me angry that he existed. So complimenting him is difficult for me. But... he had quite a good beard. Typing that really hurt, you know.

Ezra Pound (2/5)
Pound is a prime example of why this new system of literary judgement is necessary. Some have said “Pound's a genius! Without him, the modernist movement as we know it probably wouldn't have existed!” Others have said “He was an anti-semite who wrote propaganda for Mussolini, and his poetry is mostly incomprehensible!”. To both groups I say: “he had the beard of a serial killer.” Case closed.

Ernest Hemingway (2/5)
The picture quality on Wikipedia isn't really good enough to show whether the younger Hemingway had facial hair. But it does show that when he was older he looked like a jolly fisherman, which isn't a great look.

George Orwell (3/5)
It's a perfectly reasonable moustache, but Orwell is meant to be a socialist icon. And when attempting to be a socialist icon, perfectly reasonable facial hair isn't good enough. Shaw and Wells (and, indeed, Karl Marx and Che Guevara) have shown that left wing politics should be accompanied flamboyancy in the beard department: Orwell just isn't trying hard enough.

Alan Moore (4/5)

Yes, I have some notes on Alan Moore. And yes, I'm unlikely to be brave enough to write about him in an exam. But his terrifying caveman beard is worthy of respect.

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