Lord of the Flies by William Golding Perhaps the most famous pair of glasses in literature belongs to Piggy in Golding’s novel. They are used as “burning glasses” to start a fire (physically impossible as Piggy is short-sighted). Then nasty Jack breaks one of the lenses. Later the specs are stolen, leaving Piggy almost sightless as a prelude to his murder.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling HP is introduced to us as calculatedly unheroic: “small and skinny”, knobbly-kneed and, of course, bespectacled. Through the seven novels his glasses get broken all the time, and he has a special fixing spell for them. But the glasses represent his intelligence.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift When he gets to Lilliput, Gulliver manages to keep his specs hidden from the midgets who rifle his pockets. A good thing, too, for when he drags off the fleet of the neighbouring nation of Blefuscu they protect his eyes from all those little arrows
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré Contrary to expectations born of Alec Guinness’s wonderful embodiment, the master spy George Smiley of Le Carré’s novels is a short, fat man in ill-chosen clothes. One feature, however, is constant in both books and TV adaptations: his thick glasses. He has a habit of cleaning these with the thick end of his tie, a habitual prelude to some laser-like interrogative.
The Oxford Reading Tree by Roderick Hunt and Alex Brychta The witty stories of siblings Biff, Chip and Kipper teach hundreds of thousands of children to read. The droll illustrations by Alex Brychta sometimes feature a bespectacled character in the background doing something foolish (the artist himself), and most of the stories have a pair of glasses abandoned somewhere for the reader to spot.
Emma by Jane Austen Emma visits the Bates abode to find Mrs Bates “slumbering on one side of the fire” while Frank Churchill, sits at a nearby table “most deedily occupied about her spectacles, and Jane Fairfax, standing with her back to them, intent on her pianoforte”. Little does Emma realize that he is performing the glasses repair because he is romantically attached to Jane.
East Lynne by Mrs Henry Wood Lady Isabel Vane has a good husband and nice kiddies. Disastrously, she is tempted into a liaison with the no-good Frank Levison. Divorced and disgraced, she is presumed dead in a train crash, but in fact returns to East Lynne as “Madame Vine”, employed as a governess to her own children. She is not recognised because she always wears a low bonnet and thick blue spectacles. Then one day they fall off and break . . .
“The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez” by Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes puts together a profile of a murderer from a pair of golden pince-nez found in the victim’s grasp. He also deduces that, being severely short-sighted, she would not have escaped the murder scene without leaving evidence of her progress. He is right, again. She is still in the house.
Focus by Arthur Miller Set in the 1940s, Miller’s novel features nondescript New York middle manager Newman, whose life changes radically when he gets a new pair of glasses. Suddenly he starts being mistaken for a Jew. Previously he was indifferent to racism, but suddenly a world of bigotry is revealed to him.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald One image hangs over Fitzgerald’s novel: an enormous billboard of a giant pair of glasses, advertising the services of a New York optometrist. His eyes fix passing motorists on the highway through the Valley of Ashes. “They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose”. No one escapes their “persistent stare”.