An illustration showing constellations around literary objects, such as a stack of books and a deerstalker.

Reading the star signs of literary characters

Was Becky Sharp a classic Aries? Could Dorian Gray be anything other than a Taurus? Find out in our zodiac guide to some of literature's most memorable creations.

Whether you live your life by your horoscope or ignore it completely, we're guessing you're familiar with your star sign and its hallmark characteristics. But have you ever wondered about the signs of literary characters? Perhaps it's the crucial information we need to truly understand why the likes of Lady Macbeth (a total Gemini) or why Jay Gatsby (a Scorpio, we reckon) are the way they are. 

After much heated discussion and over-analysis of these protagonists' personalities, actions and values, these are the conclusions we've come to. What do you think – have we got it right?

Aries (21 March - 19 April)

Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

The infamous villain at the heart of Thackeray’s Victorian epic set the mould for the “difficult female character” for the next couple of centuries, as well as countless debates among English Literature BA students. Was Becky Sharp, a morally dubious social climber, ambitious or conniving? Either way, chances are she was an Aries. Ruled by Mars, Aries rarely shy away from conflict and tend to speak before they think. Sharp succeeds on her irrepressible and finely tuned social skills – something at which Arians excel. She also adores the spotlight, is fascinated by fashion and marries only for her own gain. But is this because she’s an inherently bad egg, or a determined, courageous and magpie-eyed Aries?

Taurus (20 April - 20 May)

Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Taurus is ruled by Venus, which governs love, money and, crucially, beauty. Who else is governed by beauty? Dorian Gray, of course. According to Allure, Taureans aren’t “afraid to roll up their sleeves and work hard to earn big rewards”. Slinging a painting in your attic and letting it grow old while you remain youthful might not seem like hard work, but we imagine it’s pretty taxing trading your soul for youth. Taureans are steadfast and loyal in nature, and may end up in unhealthy situations just to prove a point; we can say for sure that Dorian Gray is loyal to himself, and ended up in what has to be one of the world’s unhealthiest relationships. Typical Taurean.

Gemini (21 May - 20 June)

Stella Vignes from The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Echoing the celestial twins that symbolise this air sign, Stella Vignes is an identical twin – a pretty good start for a literary character we'd consider a Gemini. With perceptiveness, charm and an ability to fit in anywhere, Stella's ability to pass for white in an era when racial segregation is very much alive, shows her Gemini traits on full display. Although sometimes maligned for being two-faced, a more accurate representation would be their penchant for transformation so perhaps, with this in mind, it's easier to understand her decision to suppress her Blackness and leave her twin behind in order to create a new future for herself.

Cancer (21 June - 22 July)

Persephone “Sephy” Hadley from Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Fiercely protective and highly emotional Cancerians often find themselves at the butt of astrological jokes. Okay, so they like a good cry but who doesn't? Despite Sephy's naiveté on the chasm of inequality that separates her (a Cross) from her best friend Callum (a nought), she goes out of her way to help him in any way she can – even when it means putting herself in danger. Much like the crab that symbolises this sign, Cancerians can appear tough but get under that hard shell and you'll see the truth: they're sensitive creatures who love their safe space. Sephy is deeply loyal to those close to her and is quick to stand up for what she believes in but it's only in the safe haven of her bedroom that she's able to truly process her feelings.

Leo (23 July - 22 August)

Edmund ‘Bunny’ Cocoran from The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Of course, we learn of Bunny’s fate within a few lines of opening Donna Tartt’s searing debut. But it doesn’t take much longer for astrologically minded readers to establish that he’s probably an Leo. Outlandishly generous with time, friendship and money (as long as he’s not picking up the bill), determined to the extent that he dreams – somewhat ironically – of living “forever” and astonishingly self-confident beyond his meagre abilities, the flaxen-haired Bunny is ultimately undone by his stubbornness, naiveté and arrogance. A little lion cub if ever there were one.

Virgo (23 August - 22 September)

Sherlock Holmes from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books

Virgos are logical, practical, and systematic in their approach to life. Known for a keen intellect, strong deductive powers and a drive for things to always be in order, they are hardworking perfectionists who notice everything. Which literary character never fails to spot even the smallest of details? It's elementary, my dear Watson. Solving mysteries that leave others baffled, Sherlock Holmes combines his sharp skills with knowledge of obscure facts to assist those in need and ensure justice is done. Committed, analytical and able to turn scrambled information into organised, clear conclusions, Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective is surely the most meticulous Virgo of all.

Libra (23 September - 22 October)

Kiki Simmonds Belsey from On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Deeply forgiving and able to see all nuances of a situation – yet utterly conflict avoidant – Kiki Belsey is your quintessential Libra. In Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, she not only forgives her husband Howard’s infidelity but maintains a relationship with Carlene Kipps despite inter-familial tension. It’s well-known that Libras are aesthetically inclined, as well, and Kiki just happens to possess a preternatural appreciation and understanding of art. Diplomatic and just a smidge self-pitying, she’s complicated and adaptable – Libra all over.

Scorpio (23 October - 21 November)

Antara from Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

There’s nary a more Scorpio opening line in all the annals of literature than “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.” Of course, there’s much more depth to the relationship between Antara, the protagonist of Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, and her troubled mother, but if Co-Star’s quippy assertion that Scorpios’ “primary emotion is betrayal” is anything to go by, Antara’s brooding temperament fits the bill perfectly. Never quite serious or quite joking, and with a burning desire to “even the tally” between mother and daughter, Antara is pure Scorpio.

Sagittarius (22 November - 21 December)

Matilda Wormwood from Matilda by Roald Dahl

Represented by the archer, Sagittarians are on a quest for a knowlege. You're likely to find them chasing intellectual, spiritual or geographical pursuits and, as a result, they also make great storytellers. Sounds like Roald Dahl's Matilda to a tee – and Quentin Blake's series of covers marking the 30th anniversary of the book imagine what she might be up to as she enters her fourth decade, from astrophysicist to world traveller to CEO of the British Museum. Sagis are also known for their sense of humour and no-nonsense attitude, both of which are certainly recognisable in the moments where Matilda is pulling off pranks or using her telekinseis to teach the neglectful adults around her a lesson.

Capricorn (22 December - 19 January)

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Earnest, rational, tentative and independent; Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is very much the sea goat of the zodiac. Just like a typical Cap, Lizzy has no patience for foolishness and is not afraid to challenge others. Capricorns also have a tendency to be pessimistic. As we all know; Lizzy quickly forms a prejudice against Mr. Darcy when she is only able to see the worst in him. She does come round eventually though.

Aquarius (20 January - 18 February)

Amma from Girl, Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo

The last air sign of the zodiac, Aquarius is represented by the water bearer, who symbolically gives water – or life – to the land. Aquarius is one the most humanitarian star signs and Aquarians are often rebellious, dislike authority and conventionality, and aspire to change the world. This is, of course, a perfect description of Amma, from Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. Amma is the lesbian socialist playwright whose story opens and closes Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel. She’s a free spirit who has a non-conformist attitude; although when we meet her Amma is not as radical as she was in her youth, she retains some of that sensibility, even as she’s embraced by the mainstream and has her play staged at the National Theatre.

Pisces (19 February - 20 March)

Romeo Montague from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Pisces are known for being empathetic, idealistic and very in touch with their emotions. And Romeo – oh, Romeo – is most certainly on the same wavelength as this water sign. They’re the hopeless romantics of the zodiac and Romeo falls hard and fast for fair Juliet. In typical Pisces fashion, Shakespeare’s young hero wastes no time in expressing his devotion with plans to run away together. Unfortunately, as we all know, this leads to calamitous consequences for the pair, but it’s all in the name of love!

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Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

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