Another excuse to introduce you to some of my favorite fictional characters, authors and novels. In no particular order…
The most faithful and dashing fictional hero has to be Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth, in Persuasion. He proposed to Anne Elliot, but he was rejected because her family thought he wasn’t good enough. Wentworth returned to Bath, supposedly in search of a wife, but really he was out to impress Anne again, and impress her he did with his letter, because he’s also the greatest writer of love letters in English literature, saying things like, ‘you pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.’ and ‘Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.’ Don’t you just love him?
The most persistent (albeit tragic) hero, has to be Jay Gatsby, in Scott Firzgerald’s Great Gatsby. He’s prepared to go to any length to recover the woman he loves. He’s another self-made man thanks to his successful bootlegging business. He becomes a millionaire and buys the biggest mansion right across the bay from Daisy’s house, just to impress her. Wow!
The most patient and supportive hero has to be Thomas Hardy’s Gabriel Oak, in Far From the Madding Crowd. I first met the man who watched Bathsheba, the woman he loved, be courted by other, richer men, and marry the wrong man, at an early age. I was forced to read it for my ‘O’ levels, but the patient shepherd, who remained her friend and confidant, and was finally rewarded by marrying her, captivated me.
A hero should be fun, and the wittiest hero I can think of is Benedick, in Shakespeare’s Much ado About Nothing. His maturity and humour, match Beatrice’s, one of Shakespeare’s sharpest and most likeable female characters. I was fortunate enough to see a representation at Lancaster Castle, an unforgettable experience.
Now, a girl needs a man who will look after her and save her from anyone who would want to harm her, in short, she needs to be protected by Ian Fleming’s, James Bond, who else? In Casino Royal, for example?
The most passionate and forceful is definitely, Edward Rochester, in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. When the bigamous marriage is exposed and they return, unmarried and hapless to Thornfield Hall, Jane tells him she must leave, and she describes his incensed reaction:
‘His fury was wrought to the highest: he must yield to it for a moment, whatever followed; he crossed the floor and seized my arm and grasped my waist. He seemed to devour me with his flaming glance: physically, I felt, at the moment, powerless as stubble exposed to the draught and glow of a furnace: mentally, I still possessed my soul, and with it the certainty of ultimate safety. The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter—often an unconscious, but still a truthful interpreter—in the eye. My eye rose to his; and while I looked in his fierce face I gave an involuntary sigh; his gripe was painful, and my over-taxed strength almost exhausted. “Never,” said he, as he ground his teeth, “never was anything at once so frail and so indomitable. A mere reed she feels in my hand!” (And he shook me with the force of his hold.)
The following day, a shocked Jane, who refuses to stay and become his mistress, flees in the early hours of the morning.
Except for heroines who manage to catch a millionaire, most others need a reliable and hard-working man who’ll be a good breadwinner. I have two contenders for this post, by the same writer, Charles Dickens, but I just can’t decide who is the most hard-working, David Copperfield, or Pip, in Great Expectations, both meet the bill. They are determined and hard workers, and patient and faithful. Pip has the edge, in fact, he’s one of my favourite all round male characters… “I saw no shadow of another parting from her“. I’m so glad Pip finally gets his Estella in Dickens’ revised ending. Everyone likes a happy ending, don’t they?
Now, which heroine wouldn’t love a brave soldier like Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchel’s Gone With The Wind? A man who risks his life for his country and his men, in spite of knowing he’s on the losing side, and claiming not to be patriotic. He is referred to by his commanding officer as, “A born artilleryman, a brave soldier, and an uncompromising gentleman.” Pity Scarlett didn’t appreciate it when she should have. 😦
A bit of mystery is also quite exciting, and enigmatic Maxim de Winter in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is the most mystifying and tortured hero of all of them. Was that because he killed his wife? No wonder they changed that in the film version. rather spoils the hero, doesn’t it?
The most attractive hero is Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey, so beautiful that men and women were equally attracted to him. ‘He is some brainless beautiful creature who should be always here in winter when we have no flowers to look at, and always here in summer when we want something to chill our intelligence.’ However, he was unable to live beyond his ephemeral, and external beauty.
A man who definitely stands out due to his intelligence is the brilliant Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation is always able to solve any crime with his astuteness. No detail escapes his analytic eye. The Speckled Band is one of my favourites.
Lastly, it’s all well during the buzz of romantic love, but what happens after that? Is he someone I can grow old with? Racking my literary memory, the closest I can find to a genuine, lasting, positive and supportive relationship is Young Jolyon and Irene Forsythe in To Let, the final novel in Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga. Although it was her second, and his third matrimony, they were still in love twenty years after their marriage, when pen in hand, the last word he scribbled before dying was ‘Irene’. Sounds lasting to me!
To sum up, the ideal fictional hero must have a combination of the aforementioned characteristics. He must be beautiful, mysterious, brave, protective, hard-working, passionate, patient and supportive, intelligent, witty and fun, persistent, genuine, and faithful. Have I missed any qualities? Or heroes? Feel free to make some more suggestions!