So yesterday afternoon there was quite a lively discussion amongst some of the Harpies about our favorite men from ye olde literature, inspired by an article in the Telegraph that Pilgrim Soul sent us. Entitled “Romantic Heroes: Here’s to You, Mr. Rochester,” and written by popular novelist Penny Vincenzi, the article trumpets the news that a recent poll by romance publisher Mills & Boon–known as Harlequin in the US and Canada–crowned Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester the sexiest romantic character in literature, beating out Mr. Darcy, Rhett Butler and Heathcliff. Pilgrim Soul, PhDork and I had some strong opinions about this. Join us as our bosoms heave, both with indignation, and with barely suppressed passion for our Regency/Victorian literary loves.
PilgrimSoul: How creepy is it that everybody find Mr. Rochester so romantic? HE LOCKED HIS WIFE IN AN ATTIC.
BeckySharper: I always thought that Mr. Rochester was creepy too! And Heathcliff was just evil and cruel. The only reason the book didn’t totally fall apart was that Cathy was pretty dreadful herself and you kind of got the sense they deserved each other. But what is it with these women who think mean, brutal, domineering men are sexy?
PhDork: Hopefully all the plain girls out there will find morally-reformed blind men to marry them. After their crazy first wives burn to death, of course. No bigamy; that would be offensive.
Uh-oh, if you open the door to Mr. Rochester being less-than-perfect, than someone (me) is going to come in and point out how Mr. Darcy is a prat, too.
BeckySharper: LEAVE MR DARCY ALOOOOONE! That was the only one at the top of the list who made sense to me. (Especially as portrayed in a wet shirt by Colin Firth. You’re welcome.)
Darcy may have been a bit of a prat, but at least he never locked a mentally ill woman in an attic. Or had an illegitimate child by a French lady who then died under mysterious circumstances (come on, we all know little Adele was not just Rochester’s “ward”).
PilgrimSoul: Personally I like to stick with Colonel Brandon. Particularly as played by my future husband Alan Rickman.
BeckySharper: I love Colonel Brandon. And Alan Rickman was PERFECT. Although have you read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, where Colonel Brandon has tentacles coming out of his face? (Check out the awesome promo video of S & S & SM.)
PilgrimSoul: Alan Rickman would never have anything so vulgar coming out of his face.
PhDork: Ooh, PSoul likes damaged goods! And old dudes!
PilgrimSoul: Damaged goods? Maybe. But at least he doesn’t try to strongarm Marianne into marrying him.
BeckySharper: And he has a lovely home and likes to save women in distress, just like Mr. Darcy. So Dorky, since your snarking on our literary dreamboats, who’s yours?
PhDork: If If we’re talking S & S: Edward Ferrars.
But in general, I wouldn’t look to Victorian/Regency lit for a dude. Although John Harmon from Our Mutual Friend is an admirable fellow.
BeckySharper: Yes, John Harmon is acceptable, if you’re looking for a nice guy with a moral compass instead of a rogue.
PhDork: I’ve always found men with moral compasses appealing. None of that “bad boy” stuff for me. Give me your nerds, your dorks, your humble menz yearning to get laid.
BeckySharper: Well, you’ll find ‘em in Dickens. Those Dickens heros are so EARNEST. Except for Pip. I loved Great Expectations, but I thought Pip was douchebag.
PilgrimSoul: Also Daniel Deronda. “Do I spy a drowned Jewess!”
BeckySharper: That was such a lousy book. I never liked any of George Eliot’s novels much (at least, the ones I read). I think that makes me a bad feminist. But the men in her books were pretty awful. My lit professor once said of Stephen Guest–the dudely dude in Mill on the Floss–that he might as well have been walking around wearing a nametag reading ‘Stephen Guest, Studmuffin” because he was such a crude rendering of an alpha male.
That said, I know legions of lady readers who love Will Ladislaw from Middlemarch.
PilgrimSoul: I love Middlemarch! Can’t get it up for any of her other novels.
PhDork: Forgive me sisters, for I have sinned: I’ve never read Middlemarch.
BeckySharper: ::gasps:: ::clutches pearls::
It was the best of the bunch, for sure. Although I think I read it after I’d just plowed through the Complete Misogynist Works of Thomas Hardy, so after wife-selling (Mayor of Casterbridge) and slut-shaming of rape victims (Tess of the D’Urbervilles) Middlemarch seemed like a huge relief. And Will Ladislaw definitely has that earnest, penniless young scholar vibe that PhDork would love.
So what do you think, gentle readers? Mr. Rochester–hot or not? How about Heathcliff? Willoughby? Mr. Darcy? Which literary hearthrob loosens your corset?