He was intelligent, most would say genius. He was tall, with dark hair and grey eyes. He smoked a pipe. Had a British accent. Suave, cool, with incredible physical strength and impeccable taste in dressing gowns.
Even now, all I have to do is pull him off a shelf to feel the pitter-patter of my heart. Sherlock Holmes is so hot.
What is there to see in a book character?
Well, many times I will read a novel and encounter a character who is intelligent, funny, kind or generous: a fictional person with just the right mix of flaws and virtues. With female characters I will say "I want to be like her". With male characters the reaction is: "I wish someone like this really existed!"
And this should be a comfort to men. Because while the hard-bodied, drop-dead gorgeous studs in the movies may be a tall order (slight understatement), the virtues of book character are usually characteristics that people try to develop anyway. And sometimes, the flaws are as intriguing as the good stuff.
Thought you were the only one who likes Holden, didn't you?
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger is kind of divisive. People either hate it or love it. In my experience, people who hate it just don't identify with the "outsider" status of Holden. Yes, he's rich. Yes, he goes to private school. Yes, he lives in New York City. But he witnesses a number of tragedies in the course of the book that make him morbid and emotionally bruised.
A reader in O magazine described reading the novel as a teen "I remember thinking that all Holden Caulfield needed was a nice Jewish girl like me..." she said.
I agree. I'm a bit of a loner myself. At my worst moments, I am a lot like Holden. But he has this vulnerability that goes with it. His love for his little sister is especially touching.
Yeah, this is that whole Freudian thing. Atticus is the ideal father. Wise, accessible, able to settle disputes, willing to do the jobs no one else will do. When I first read To Kill A Mockingbird at age 12, I sympathised totally with Scout. Later, I re-read the book and realized what a strong, decent character Atticus is. And if I ever met a man as thoughtful as Atticus, I'd whisk him off to Vegas and marry him Britney Spears style in 20 minutes flat.
That poor guy wouldn't know what hit him.
The Three Musketeers
It's hard to choose which one, but let's include all three: gotta love men with big swords. My personal favorite is Athos, the serious one with all the mystery. The Three Musketeers is largely character-driven, as the dialogue, action and personalities of these three men are epic enough to make you read chapter after chapter.
Which vampire? Any vampire. Gentleman, if you want to have crowds of women fainting in at your feet, buy a cape and develop a taste for plasma. Most women find vampires very sexy. Even literary snobs like me will succumb to a little Anne Rice now and then. There are psychological explanations for why these mythical creatures get more attention than wizards and talking frogs.
In the original Dracula by Bram Stoker, one of the themes is the threat of female sexuality. The Count takes these good Victorian girls and leads them into depravity and darkness, draining them of all virtue.
What girl doesn't want that?
The proverbial "one that got away" from Jane Austen's Persuasion, Captain Wentworth remains faithful to Anne Elliot despite her rejection of him. He gives her a second chance because he is really nice guy. And to be honest, I find that niceness is a very attractive feature.
Mr Knightley is the older, calmer voice of reason to Emma Woodhouse's headstrong personality. She is smart, pretty, spoiled and too bored for her own good. Mr Knightley knew her as a baby and is considered a family friend. But a man who is an advisor, who doesn't mind spending an afternoon sipping tea with your elderly hypochondriac father is a keeper- why doesn't Emma see that from the first?
The tall, cool, suave, educated, rich, well-bred, British aristocrat is from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine many women want to be: intelligent, sensible, confident, pretty and nice. Her leading man is therefore an object of desire.
Part of his appeal is in their courtship. She misjudges him, misunderstands him, but he ends up liking her anyway, though he has plenty of reason not to. He is also a doting big brother (that seems to really appeal to us, too)
Face it, Jane Austen knew what she liked.