Literary Leading Men


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which is all the urging we need to indulge in a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, and a stack of our favorite literary romances. In the past Bas Bleu‘s editors shared some of our favorite literary couples, unforgettable romantic words from literature, and lessons in love we’ve learned from books. This year, we’re sighing over ten golden-hearted romantic heroes from classic novels.

To help us winnow the candidates, we forbade ourselves from including any of Jane Austen’s gallants (too easy!) and gave bad boys like Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester the day off. As ever, our lists are not comprehensive; feel free to add your picks in the comments below!

north-and-southJohn Thornton, North and South: Whether you became a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s proud mill owner via her original novel or fell for Richard Armitage’s brooding BBC portrayal, it’s no mystery why Mr. Thornton sets hearts aflutter. A self-made man, he rose from the shame and resulting poverty of a family scandal to work his way up the industrial ladder, building his wealth and a reputation as a fair, honest man along the way. Yes, he’s proud and pretty stubborn when it comes to negotiating with his workers. But he’s not averse to change, and he’s not ashamed to admit when he’s wrong…or when the woman he loves is right! Plus any guy who’s that good to his indomitable mother deserves a gold star.

Gilbert Blythe, the Anne of Green Gables series: For the record, we don’t advocate breaking slates over children’s heads. But a girl was never so lucky to be called “Carrots” as Anne Shirley was the day young Mr. Blythe lost his heart to her. Yes, Gilbert’s handsome, but he’s also charismatic, warm hearted, and smart as a whip. He helps his father manage their farm while doubling down on schoolwork. He’s ambitious enough to want to be top of his class, but admires Anne enough to graciously accept defeat when she edges him out for #1. He sacrifices a plum job for her and stoically endures her scorn and rejection, but Gilbert goes full-on romantic hero when he contracts typhoid fever and hovers near death just long enough for Anne to realize she loves him back. Gilbert forever!

these-happy-golden-yearsAlmanzo Wilder, the Little House series: With a pa like Charles Ingalls, the bar was set pretty high for any man hoping to win Laura Ingalls’s heart. But as heroic entrances go, Almanzo makes an impressive one: He risks his life to bring wheat through a blizzard to save the Wilders and their neighbors from starvation. When Laura takes her first teaching gig, handsome Almanzo regularly shows up to offer her a ride home in his buggy. He’s determined in his courtship, but patient and kind, delighting in Laura’s independence and wit. And he doesn’t bat an eye when she asks to remove “obey” from her wedding vows. Yes, he’s ten years older than the teenaged Laura, but those were different times. And besides, he makes amazing pancakes.

Edmond Dantès, The Count of Monte Cristo: At first glance, an unquenchable thirst for revenge might not seem the best qualifier for a hero with a heart of gold. But imagine being thrown into prison to rot while the man who betrayed you marries your girl; can you blame a guy for bearing a grudge? Besides, revenge hasn’t blackened Dantès’s heart; even as he’s wreaking havoc on his enemies’ lives, he finds time to clear the debts of old friends and rescue a woman from slavery.

Far From the Madding CrowdGabriel Oak, Far from the Madding Crowd: As romantic heroes go, Farmer Oak is not terribly exciting. But he is loyal, reliable, and uncomplaining; when life knocks him down, he gets back up and tries again. He knows his heart and knows exactly whom he wants to give it to, but refuses to betray his nature or beliefs to do so. He’s not much for grand gestures or flowery declarations of love, but when Bathsheba Everdene’s life is going to hell and Gabriel quietly appears, she knows that, somehow, everything is going to be okay.

George Emerson, A Room with a View: Lucy Honeychurch was just hoping to see the Arno, but her Italian tour reveals George Emerson instead. Skeptical of social norms, prone to melancholy when the world doesn’t meet his ideals, and a proponent of the “revolutionary” concepts of class and gender equality, George is a far cry from the proper young men of Lucy’s sheltered acquaintance. Plus he’s prone to kissing her whenever the mood strikes. But where Lucy’s beau Cecil is prim and controlling, determined to mold Lucy into the woman he wants her to be, George helps her discover the woman she truly is.

9780140014846-uk-300Oliver Mellors, Lady Chatterley’s Lover: We know, we know, you think we chose him just for the sexy bits. But bear with us. What attracts Lady Chatterley (and millions of readers) to Mellors is the fact that he’s an individual in a world becoming increasingly mechanized. While other men (we’re looking at you, Lord Chatterley) are rendered impotent by war, money, and their thirst for power and fame, Mellors finds peace and fulfillment in the natural world…fulfillment he shares with Lady Chatterley in their clandestine affair. She detects more innate nobility and grace in the gamekeeper than she does in her high-born husband, a product of a rigid, outdated class system. Proof positive that money doesn’t always talk.

Rhett Butler, Gone with the Wind: Even amid the criticism heaped on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, there’s no denying our soft spot for that rogue from Charleston. Rhett puts on the airs of a bad boy: ill-gotten gains, casual disregard for his scandalous reputation, and outspoken, unmistakably sexual bravado. But beneath that urbane exterior is a man lonely for a sense of home—cast out of his family, privately patriotic, and hungry for the love of the one woman he considers a kindred spirit. And did we mention his devotion to little Bonnie? Our hearts break.

scarlet-pimpernelSir Percy Blakeney, The Scarlet Pimpernel: A man who pretends to be someone he’s not is a poor romantic choice—unless his true self is the swashbuckling type who saves people from gruesome mob violence. In public, British nobleman Percy Blakeney is a dandy, a fop, and a dullard, more concerned with the state of his cravats than the violent revolution happening just across the English Channel. In private, he is the cunningly brilliant Scarlet Pimpernel, a master of disguise and a keen swordsman who risks life and limb to save people from the guillotine. He also just happens to be so madly in love with his wife that he literally kisses the ground she walks upon. Oh, and speaking of guillotines…

Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities: Dude volunteers to have his head cut off to save the woman he loves. If that’s not devotion, we don’t know what is.


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30 thoughts on “Literary Leading Men

  1. Love this creative and fun list of heart throbs! I’ve not read some of these books so it’s an inspiring list that makes me want to explore. Somehow “wounded heros” like Rhett always have a special place in my heart. Great job!!!!

  2. This is a great list. I’ve got to say that Atticus Finch has probably been my biggest literary crush (even before I saw Gregory Peck play him) but a few of the men here are a close second.

  3. When I was a teenager, I had a terrible crush on Flurry Knox of The Irish RM (Somerville and Ross). Hilariously irresponsible when he wasn’t being secretly responsible, he took care of those he loved, while never being predictable.

  4. I’m going to say Ross Poldark, but it might be because when I read the series now, I can easily picture Aiden Turner.

    • Having read Winston Graham’s 12 books on the Poldark saga, I wholeheartedly agree with this choice. His love for Demelza continually grows over the years, and the romantic moments between the two are intensely passionate while being tantalizingly understated.

  5. Not a(n old) classic, but Jamie and Claire Fraser of Outlander fame make many hearts flutter. I read the books long before the TV series came out, and loved them. Of course, I must confess I’m a sucker for anything Scottish.

  6. Thank you for choosing Mr. Thornton. I’d like to suggest Newland Archer. He might not have followed his heart’s passion, but he stayed true to his family.

  7. How about Aragon from Lord of the Rings. As Strider, he’s a mysterious, maybe dangerous, scruffy type that Dad would never approve of, but you know better. Then, he is revealed as heir to the throne and crowned King!!! My ultimate teen fantasy guy.

  8. Mr. Darcy is missing!! He should be right behind Gilbert Blythe. He turned over backwards for Elizabeth, even after she rejected him.

  9. Conspicuously missing from your list is my idea of the perfect man: Lord Peter Wimsey. He is consistently charming, clever, not afraid to be self-deprecating, a snappy dresser and wealthy. What more could one desire in a man?

  10. I love Eric(phantom) from Gaston Laroux’s novel…Phantom of the Opera. Loved the Gerard Butler portrayal(what woman wouldn’t)?! but even without the movie, the phantom was pretty romantic….and got the short end of the stick when he loses Christine to Raoul!

  11. What about Christopher Tietjens from Parade’s End? He is such a model person and so misunderstood. Catherine

  12. There are several candidates in the Georgette Heyer Regency novels. My top two are Freddy Standen from Cotillion, who is smarter than he appears, is socially adept, and has a heart the size of the great outdoors. Adam Deveril in A Civil Contract is one of the Duke of Wellington’s soldiers who has to forsake a promising military career and the girl he loves to look after his mother and sisters who’ve been left broke by his spendthrift father. He marries a plain but very rich girl and has enough maturity to make a success in both marriage and his struggling estate and learns to appreciate his wife’s hidden qualities.

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