Guys, I’m having a bit of a break for a couple of days but you’re in super safe hands as today I have a brilliant guest post from one of my favourite writers and gin fiend denizens of the internet, Deanna Raybourn for you all and it’s on a topic that I KNOW is close to all of our hearts…
Literary crushes. We all have them, and some of them have been around for centuries. (Mr. Darcy, anyone?) Passing fancies can come and go, but the literary crush is usually enduring. We might find him when we’re young and impressionable, and we hold him up as an impossible standard for the boys we actually know. And when we go back as grown women and visit them again, we might have a few regrets. Like the teen idol grown paunchy and jowly, the early literary crush doesn’t always age well. I was in my twenties before I realized how deeply awful Heathcliff actually is. (Every time I make this remark it’s met with howls of outrage—until I remind people he hanged his wife’s dog on their wedding day. Dealbreaker!)
Other crushes have revealed themselves as sexist or politically incorrect for modern time, although I do try to think of them as creatures of their own times, not mine. And there’s always the irrational tendency to believe that if they were our contemporaries, they’d be evolved and enlightened–probably shaky ground there, but literary crushes are not particularly logical. I don’t remember ever having crushes on the boys I read about, only the men. And what men they were!
Merle Oberon and Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1934.
First, and most enduring—Sir Percy Blakeney, better known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Self-sacrificing, noble, clever, resourceful, athletic, courteous, romantic, brave, what’s not to love? He risks everything to save French aristocrats from the guillotine and masks his courage with the guise of a fop. He’s content to be ridiculed as a craven figure of fashion, all the while commanding a league of like-minded gallants. Like many a superhero, he has a tragic past and an identity that is secret from those he loves most. (To be strictly fair, I fell in love with the Anthony Andrews version of the Pimpernel and only realized upon later reading the book how much more divine the original is. The scene where Baroness Orczy has Percy kiss the footprints of his estranged wife is entirely over the top and disgustingly sentimental—and it still gets me every time. Also, Orczy makes several tantalizing references to Percy’s physique…)
Next on my list is Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s sidekick and partner in detection. From Revolutionary France to midtown, mid-century Manhattan seems like a long road, but these two men do have a few things in common. Like Percy, Archie has a strong sense of ethics. He believes in right and wrong, and he will fight tooth and nail to see justice done. He’s a champion of the underdog and chivalrous to women. He doesn’t shy away from a fight, and he isn’t afraid to take a bullet. While Percy composes doggerel to celebrate the exploits of his alter-ego, Archie is dogged in his pursuit of villains, wisecracking his way through life with an insufferable, adorable insouciance. He refers to women as dames and broads, but he’s a sucker for a damsel in distress, and we know he’s suffered in the past. He’s loyal and trustworthy and irrepressible.
After Archie comes everyone’s perfect dad, Atticus Finch. But while the book focuses on Atticus as father, I always wondered about him as husband. He is intelligent and thoughtful, kind and deliberate. There’s something courtly about his old-fashioned courtesies, but when the situation calls for action, Atticus doesn’t hesitate. Whether he’s shooting a rabid dog in the street or heading off a lynch mob out for blood, Atticus is more than just a smooth Southern lawyer who has a way with words. He’s everything that is good and noble, and when we get the smallest peek behind the perfectly-starched waistcoat, he’s irresistible—a gentleman through and through.
The beauteous Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre, 2006. It was between him and Michael Fassbender for me but Stephens just won it.
Finally, there must be a Brontë hero on the list, mustn’t there? In my case, it’s Rochester. Ah, yes, a bigamist. That ought to be a dealbreaker, oughtn’t it? But it’s important to remember that in an age when mad wives could be shunted off to horrific asylums or conveniently shut away in squalid private homes, Rochester kept the unfortunate Bertha with him, in as much comfort as he could provide, at his main estate. He looked to her care with far more compassion and attentiveness than was common at the time. And yes, he did plan on committing bigamy with the hapless Jane, but he claims — and I believe him — that he would have been a faithful husband to her, devoting his life to her happiness. He’s punished, and rightly so, for his hubris with injuries sustained in a fire, and this humbled, glorious wreck of a man has every hope of being an excellent husband the second time around. He has learned to value gentleness, compassion, kindness — and yet he chooses a bride who is very much her own woman. In spite of her reputation as being a diffident little wren, a close examination of the book shows that she is determined, uncompromising, and true to herself with an unassailable will and a backbone of pure steel. And it takes a strong man in historical fiction to take a partner who will challenge him.
So those are my star literary crushes. There are a few dozen lesser entries in the field, but these are the gentlemen in print who never fail to intrigue me. Which fictional fellows set your pulses racing?
Thank you SO much Deanna for a superb guest post! I’m sure you’re all already MEGA fans of Deanna’s books but if you haven’t already read her latest novel, City of Jasmine then I really urge you to do so. I was absolutely gripped by it and seriously smitten by the hero as well…
Set against the lush, exotic European colonial outposts of the 1920s, New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn delivers the captivating tale of one woman who embarks upon a journey to see the world—and ends up finding intrigue, danger and a love beyond all reason.
Famed aviatrix Evangeline Starke never expected to see her husband, adventurer Gabriel Starke, ever again. They had been a golden couple, enjoying a whirlwind courtship amid the backdrop of a glittering social set in pre-war London until his sudden death with the sinking of the Lusitania. Five years later, beginning to embrace life again, Evie embarks upon a flight around the world, collecting fame and admirers along the way. In the midst of her triumphant tour, she is shocked to receive a mysterious—and recent—photograph of Gabriel, which brings her ambitious stunt to a screeching halt.
With her eccentric aunt Dove in tow, Evie tracks the source of the photo to the ancient City of Jasmine, Damascus. There she discovers that nothing is as it seems. Danger lurks at every turn, and at stake is a priceless relic, an artefact once lost to time and so valuable that criminals will stop at nothing to acquire it—even murder. Leaving the jewelled city behind, Evie sets off across the punishing sands of the desert to unearth the truth of Gabriel’s disappearance and retrieve a relic straight from the pages of history. Along the way, Evie must come to terms with the deception that parted her from Gabriel and the passion that will change her destiny forever…
Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK and Amazon US.
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