10 of the Best “Makeovers” in Literature

by . Posted on Flavorpill -  Wednesday Sept 5, 2012

Yesterday, Emma Straub’s excellent debut novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures waltzed onto bookshelves everywhere. We loved the book, which follows a young girl’s rise to stardom in Old Hollywood, as she transforms from a sunny country bumpkin to a savvy brunette bombshell to something else entirely. Inspired by the novel, which is full of many transformations, both literal and somewhat more metaphorical, we’ve put together a few of our favorite makeovers in literature — from the kind achieved with a little spit and polish to the sort that requires a vast internal sea change. Click through to see which we picked, and let us know if we missed your favorite in the comments.

Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw
The non-English majors among you may know this play better in one of its more modern incarnations: My Fair Lady and She’s All That, among others (though of course the play itself is based on the Pygmalion myth, in which Pygmalion falls in love with a sculpture of his own making). But Shaw’s play, meant as commentary on the British class system in the early 1900s, is the original story of renowned linguist Henry Higgins, who bets his friend that he can turn a Cockney street rat into a charming lady. He succeeds, of course, but (unlike in any of the film adaptations) he does not fall in love with her. How refreshing.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gatsby’s makeover happens off the page, and it happens before the drama of the novel, but it’s still one of the most memorable makeovers in literature. Maybe it’s the whole American-ness of it that appeals to us — a young Gatsby, horrified by the indignity of poverty, reinvents himself, getting rich by hook or by crook (mostly by crook) and then re-emerging into society as a man of high birth and old money. The veneer may not be perfect, but what veneer ever is?

Orlando: A Biography, Virginia Woolf
There’s no makeover montage in Woolf’s novel, no harried trainers, no years of personal growth. Orlando simply falls asleep (for several days, we admit) and wakes up as a woman. Then, she must negotiate her new form, realizing all the wonders (and discomforts) of female-hood, before settling into a life of fluid gender roles, switching between men’s and woman’s dress as she pleases.