Holding out for a (literary) hero

Sydney Carton

Sydney Carton (so would…)

Stylist magazine had a great article a week or two ago, about the undying appeal of Fitzwilliam Darcy, marking the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. The magazine cover showed a smouldering photo of Colin Firth as Darcy, cravat and smirk firmly in place, with the caption ‘Still Would’.

The cover did make me laugh, although I can’t help finding it rather sad that, 200 years on, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a handsome man with a large fortune can be as rude as he likes and we’ll still flutter our eyelashes if he looks our way. It’d be nice to think we’d evolved just a tiny bit, what with the ability to earn our own living, vote, get a mortgage and so on.

So, following on from my post about heroines in literature, here are a few of the fictional men I’d like to have by my side in a tight spot (stop sniggering). What am I looking for from the men? Well, courage, of course. You don’t want to watch your hero disappearing hot-foot down that dark alley, leaving you to see off the villains. Also, someone who can do the stuff I can’t. In my case, that rather means tech stuff, stuff with tools (sorry). A man who knows what to do with a volt meter, who doesn’t stand around ineffectually when a car tyre needs changing. But also (I can actually change a tyre myself, given enough time) a man with a golden strand of decency, who is on the side of the have-nots against the haves, who has naturally good manners (bye, Mr D.) and is not boastful or callous. Necessarily, this will be a short list.

Doctor Who. Oh, don’t laugh. He’s tech-savvy, bold, always picks the underdog to defend, fights with wits rather than hardware. He’s gallant, funny and wouldn’t leave you in the lurch – indeed, he’s been known to risk the entire universe to save Billie Piper, which is not a risk everyone would take.

Doctor Watson (oops, theme developing). Yes, Sherlock may have the razor-sharp brain, but Watson has courage, loyalty and gallantry. He doesn’t show off like Holmes does, but takes pride in his friend’s abilities. He is also capable of having relationships with women, which some of us see as a bonus.

Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, and Eugene Wrayburn in Our Mutual Friend. They’re practically the same character; a potentially-brilliant but world-weary, louche lawyer. One (just) escapes a grisly end and the other makes his end into the pinnacle of his life. There is something irresistible about the cad who reforms, the layabout who becomes wonderfully energetic or the ethically dubious who makes the most glorious, selfless sacrifice. Dickens, you were rubbish with women, but you did do a good hero.

Thomas Cromwell, in Wolf Hall. Yes, I know he was a real person, but the character in Wolf Hall is fictional. An unusual hero perhaps (one who ‘looks like a murderer’) but consider: he loved his competent wife and educated, clever daughters; fed the poor of the city; stuck by the Cardinal Wolsey even when it seemed to mean ruination; took in destitute boys and trained them to earn a good living. He may have connived to bring a few people to the gallows, but they probably deserved it. And he’d spent his entire life getting out of tight spots. You’d need to be sure he was on your side, mind…

Doc in Cannery Row. Yup, another doctor. Doc was a dedicated scientist, but that didn’t stop him demonstrating his innate courtesy, patience and non-judgemental friendship to the derelicts of the row. There’s something about dedication, whether it’s to a political cause, art, family or calling, that makes a hero special.

Who’s missing? Sorry, 007, were you expecting me? Much as I enjoy the Bond books, it hasn’t escaped my notice that women who hang out with James come to unpleasant ends pretty quickly. Darcy, no true gentleman hero sneers at a girl for her background. As for the hard-drinking, sharp-shooting law enforcers of contemporary crime fiction, they sound like altogether too much hard work. Someone gentler, more cerebral, with fully functioning little grey cells… Ah! Monsieur Poirot, take a seat. Can I get you a tisane?



Filed under Books

3 responses to “Holding out for a (literary) hero

  1. Heroine: Lyra Bellacqua from The Golden Compass. She’s SO cool!
    Heroes are harder to find, but after giving it some thought, I really admire Billy Parham in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. Not flashy, but honest and enduring, and willing to do the hard stuff when nobody else will.

  2. Atticus Finch – or do I mean Gregory Peck in wire rim glasses looking earnest? Principled, down to earth, clever and articulate in a down home way, great father, good looking… need I say more?

  3. I’m so with you on Thomas Cromwell and Doctor Watson. However, Doctor Watson was pretty attached to Sherlock and always away traveling. BUT, I agree with you that I wouldn’t mind having him by my side either. I haven’t read the other books, but I want to now. Thank you! I’ll have to read your heroine post now.

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