True story: The first time we heard about a series of books featuring one Adrian Mole, we pictured a sort of Wind in the Willows situation—a story centered on the life and times of a burrowing rodent in a tiny waistcoat and spectacles.
Imagine our surprise to find that the real Adrian Mole wasn’t a mole at all, but rather the diary-keeping, lovelorn, overly ambitious and utterly adorable teen protagonist of a series of books by Sue Townsend. It’s hard to think of another character as identifiable as Adrian; picture Holden Caulfield getting over his pretentious disillusionment and sex-obsessed posturing and realizing, little by little and with comic dismay, just what an ordinary human dude he actually is.
“I have never seen a dead body or a female nipple,” Adrian laments in his very first book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾. “This is what comes from living in a cul-de-sac.”
Such was the great charm of Adrian Mole, who spends his life trying to hang onto his aspirations of greatness even as he becomes increasingly, tragically aware that he’s actually kind of a weenie. All in all, Adrian’s fascinatingly pedestrian little dramas played out across nearly three decades and nine novels, making him one of the few young adult characters who actually grew up and kept struggling right along with his readers (rather than, say, saving the world at age 18 and riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after.)
Sue Townsend, the author who brought Adrian to life, devoted her own life to telling his story, continuing to write novels even as her deteriorating health made it more and more difficult to do so. Ultimately, Townsend saw Adrian Mole and his adoring fans through 27 years of small, hard-won victories before she passed away late last week, leaving behind one of the most hilarious portraits of teen angst ever written and leaving a glimmer of hope that her perpetually floundering protagonist might finally be on his way to better things. RIP, Sue Townsend, and thank you for introducing us to the most marvelous 13 3/4-year-old undiscovered intellectual of his age.
Are you an Adrian Mole fan? Share your favorite quotes and memories in the comments.