The Historical Sue is a Mary Sue character in a story either written before 1960 or considered a "classic." She is not to be confused with a Mary Sue in a historical setting.
Mary Sue may be older than we think she is. As long as authors have existed, they have been tempted to put themselves into their own stories, to play favorites with their own characters, or to create characters who are either so sickeningly sweet, or else so ridiculously powerful, as to be completely unrealistic.
Because only the best stories stand the test of time for fifty or more years, Historical Sues are generally less egregious and poorly written than their contemporary counterparts, and most of the works mentioned below are worth reading. They are also almost always Canon Sues; fan fiction is a relatively new phenomenon. (Plagiarism, however, is not, and probably gave us the first examples of non-canon Mary Sues.)
Over the years, the conventions of storytelling have changed. Today, it is considered a mark of bad writing to write about an unrealistically perfect character who easily influences everyone around her; but realistic characters were not always so important to writers. Especially in the field of children's literature, it was quite normal to create a perfect or near-perfect main character, so that the reader would see the character as an example to live up to, rather than a realistic human being to get to know. (Mark Twain parodied this tendency quite viciously in "The Story of the Good Little Boy," and followed that up with creating at least two realistically fallible child characters, proving he knew what he was talking about.)
Type 1: The Angelic ChildEdit
This type of Sue is a child or young person with an angelic personality, a great deal of beauty, and a strong tendency to either encounter tragedy or even die (melodramatically), usually of tuberculosis (which, to be fair, killed a lot of people before antibiotics were developed). Her natural habitat is in children's literature, but she can be found elsewhere.
- Charles Dickens occasionally had characters like this.
- From A Christmas Carol comes Tiny Tim's angelic personality and chirpy cheerfulness. His possible death is a great part of what eventually reforms the antisocial and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. Thankfully, he is a minor character.
- Little Nell, of The Old Curiosity-Shoppe, is ridiculously angelic, with none of the flaws a normal teenage girl should have. Every single villain in the story has it in for her, and she eventually dies in a particularly dramatic fashion—even for books of that era. Oscar Wilde stated it best when he remarked that "One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears... of laughter."
- Beth March of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a shy, kind teenager who enjoys charity work and plays the piano beautifully. During the story, her kindness turns into absolute saintliness as her health declines and she eventually dies.
- Frances Hodgson Burnett is prone to this type of character. It's not surprising that her most well-loved book, A Secret Garden, is also the one whose main character has few Sueish traits.
- Sara Crewe, of A Little Princess, is rich, beautiful (though she thinks she's ugly), and well-behaved; and the only people who don't like her are downright evil.
- Cedric, of Little Lord Fauntleroy, is so innocently loving that he reforms everyone around him, including his aristocratic grandfather. He is also repeatedly described as "beautiful"—and the descriptions of his clothing doomed little boys to lace and velvet for an entire generation!
- Evangeline St. Clare, a secondary character in Uncle Tom's Cabin, is a Southern child who is absolutely kind, generous, and constantly described as beautiful. Her influence reforms everyone around her (except her mother, whose villainy is accented by this fact), and eventually dies with a great deal of drama.
- Sir Galahad is usually distinguished by his moral perfection, though he isn't a child. In some adaptations, he's just a garden variety Marty Stu, or even a non-Stu; but he can definitely range into this territory. He's described as "the perfect knight" often enough; and he succeeds at the Grail quest where every other knight—including the most powerful, experienced, and virtuous of them—have failed.
Type 2: The Omnipotent HeroEdit
This type of character seems to be written so that the author can revel in the sheer audacity of his character's amazing feats. He is generally male (though sometimes female), and either never fails, or fails only when challenged by the gods. Unlike the fragile, beautiful female type, this Marty Stu tends to ignore morality in general; instead, the point of the story is to have the audience amazed at how absolutely awesome this character is. In some stories, he's extremely powerful; in others, he's also very intelligent.
- Classical Mythology: Just about every "hero" is ridiculously powerful. Hercules, Perseus, Odysseus...
- U.S. folklore created "tall tales" with characters like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, who are capable of superhuman feats, seemingly without limit. (Pecos Bill, for example, once lassoed a tornado.)
- Superman is a modern example who has also been around long enough to fit the pre-1960 criterion. He started out as a realistic character, only developing into a Marty Stu after multiple writers added enough powers to make him invulnerable to practically everything and capable of just about everything else. Writers, remember: If you have to invent Kryptonite to threaten your character, he's too powerful.
- Sherlock Holmes, though remarkably intelligent and capable, has enough flaws not to be a Marty Stu. But after Sherlock became very popular, most of the writers who stole the character and named him something slightly different turned him into a practically omniscient Marty Stu.
Type 3: Too Beautiful For Her Own GoodEdit
Every woman wants to be beautiful, right? Some writers decided it was a good idea to take it up to the nth degree. This Mary Sue causes chaos simply by being so beautiful and desirable that people go to crazy lengths to get her—in many cases, they either try to kill her or someone else, or even start wars over her beauty.
- Some of the earliest examples come from fairy tales. Cinderella and Snow White, for example, are both extremely beautiful, virtuous young women who are persecuted for their beauty, and eventually marry the most eligible, desirable person the author can think of (namely, a Prince).
- Helen of Troy. 'Nuff said. No, really. We're not gonna bother with elaborating—entire books have been written about this debacle.
- Lúthien. Even Tolkien wasn't immune.
- Esmeralda, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (in both the book and the Disney adaptation, though obviously the Disney version is too new to qualify).