I'm a veracious reader. If the sun was to burn out, and the world supply of electricity inevitably ran short, I'd still be happy as long as I had my books and a torch. Hell, I'd sit outside and read by firelight if it came to that, but something that has often perplexed me about fiction is the types of male characters we get what I call 'Book Girl Crushes' on. Three of the top five votes in a British pole conducted in 2009 on the most romantic male characters were surprisingly telling in terms of what women are willing to put up with from a man and still allow him to drape his breeches over the foot of their beds every night.
5. Rhett Butler from Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the wind. As long as I live, I will never comprehend why even the most desperate southern belle would get her pantaloons in a twist over this man. Sure he's charming, but so is a door to door salesman, and for the same reason: to get you all swoony so you'll throw your front door wide open, make of that analogy what you will, and give him all your money. And call me picky, but I don't get hot and bothered at the thought of being raped every time my (metaphorical) man gets a visit from the green-eyed monster. The only male character who comes off worse for me is Stanley from 'Streetcar named desire,' and that's only because he's so irredeemably evil.
4. Heathcliff from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. This is one of my favourite books of all time, and Heathcliff is definitely the character with whom my sympathies lie; for the first half of the story. To endure years of abuse and torment at the hands of an impossibly cruel adoptive brother, and have your best friend and co-conspirator, the only person you've ever loved and had love you in return, taken away from you and returned years later a polished shell of her former self would be unbearable. I get it. But does that justify marrying your sister in law to make her your emotional punching bag, and forcing the girl that should have been your daughter to marry your half-wit nephew in order to keep her as a slave? Love's a bitch, I get it, but did he have to turn into one?
1. Edward Rochester of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. If there was such a thing as an illustrated phrase book, and you were to look up the definition of Treat them mean, keep them keen, this dude's picture would be above it. Let's consider his rap sheet. He has a 'ward' (ahem) for whom he provides everything but fatherly love and seems rather bitter towards; he stashes his poor mentally unwell first wife away upstairs like a caged bird that's embarrassingly lost all it's feathers; and generally makes everyone feel inferior compared to him, when it is clearly the other way around. Into this mess arrives the plain and unpretentious Miss Eyre, who carries a truckload of emotional baggage herself but, unlike Rochester, chooses not to swing it around and whack people in the head with it. He engages her in conversation, playfully baiting her, but soon realises she is more than a match for him, and is not the dumb country mouse she appears. He starts to have feelings for her. So what does he do? Sits her in a room full of gorgeous society maidens and watches them play keeping's off with her self esteem.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, PAGES and PAGES of it, he confesses his love for our Jane and proposes. But wait, I hear you say, didn't he forget something? That's right, poor old Mrs Bats in the top cupboard. At first everyone, including Rochester, makes Jane feel like she's losing her mind whenever she tells them of the nocturnal visitations she's been having. Then they blame it on a servant. Jane only learns the truth when wifey number one nearly burns the Rochester joint down a second time (she saved his life the first time, just before the painful meeting with the society maidens; Cheers Ed, glad I rescued your arse before you were roasted like the Christmas goose you are). There is a happy ending, depending on your perspective. Finding her control freak former fiance is not dead, as she was lead to believe, but has been horribly disfigured, and in an uncharacteristic act of altruism decided he did not want her to be his nursemaid for life, Jane comes running back into his chicken-fried arms and they live happily ever after. I suppose what women love about this guy is that he tosses his tyrannical ways after succumbing to the love of a good woman, and all she did was raise his, ahem, 'ward', put up with his crap and save his life on two separate occasions.
This is 2012, not 1952; surely this ridiculously masochistic attraction we have for rich bad boys and charismatic alpha-males has to wane at some point. I've dated a Mr Rochester. He didn't have a first wife as far as I know, and wasn't horribly disfigured in a fire, but he burned his bridges with me, and incinerated my taste for manly misogynists, the day I discovered that I was, to quote a song by Alicia's Attic, 'Worth more than he put on my boots.'