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!
John 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!
Almanzo 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.
Gabriel 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.
Oliver 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.
Sir 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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