Who's the most romantic character in literature?

So, in a recent British poll on the most romantic literary character of all time (men, that is; they dealt with women in an earlier poll), top honors went to Rochester, the brooding hunk at the heart of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Though I’m a huge fan of Jane Eyre — I reread my well-thumbed copy at least once a year — I’m not enamored of Rochester, who, let’s face it, wasn’t very nice to poor Jane. (For those who you who haven’t read the book, or who read it so long ago it’s a distant blur, let’s just say Rochester was alternately cold, imperious, and withholding, and he proposed to Jane —  and was going through with the wedding — without  disclosing that he was already married to a madwoman he kept imprisoned in the attic). But am I possibility in the minority here? British best-selling novelist Penny Vincenzi wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “From that very first meeting [age 13, when she read the book for the first time], when Rochester’s horse slipped on the ice, and he was unseated, and I was confronted by his dark, unsmiling presence, his ‘stern features, and heavy brow… his considerable breadth of chest,’ I was completely in his thrall.”

So here’s the British poll in full:

1. Edward Rochester of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
2. Richard Sharpe of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.
3. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
4. Heathcliff of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
5. Rhett Butler of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind
6. Mark Darcy, of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary
7. Captain Corelli of Louis de Berniere’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
8. Henry DeTamble of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife
9. Gabriel Oak of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd
10. Rupert Campbell Black of Jilly Cooper’s The Rutshire Chronicles

Several thoughts here. Maybe it’s because I’m a Southern, but Rhett Butler — the dashing Charleston-born blockade runner who lusted after Scarlett O’Hara — is tops with me. (I took umbrage at Vincenzi when she said Butler lacked Rochester’s “complexity.” Excuse me — lacked complexity?) And what’s with No. 2, Richard Sharpe? Didn’t every single woman he romanced die in childbirth? (It’s been awhile since I read the books, so I could be wrong.) And who in their right mind could truly love the unutterable snob Fitzwilliam Darcy? (Oh. Wait. This is a British survey.)

I’m still mulling over my final list, but I think both Max de Winter from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Benedick from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing belong on it. Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series. George Emerson from E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View.

When I canvassed my friends, I got some surprising answers. “Definitely, it’s Garp,” said one. “I go for the tortured, suicidal, depressed Westchester types. Or maybe I just sorta get him confused with John Irving.” “Are you kidding? It’s Father Ralph de Bricassart,” said another, mentioning the swoon-worthy priest of Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. My colleagues had a lot to say on the subject too. Marc Bernardin nominated “Gollum. His love for the Ring, for his Precious, knows no bounds, sends him on a quest across his known world, brings him into conflict with those who would do him great harm, and finally seals his fate.” Jeff Labrecque said, “He’s not dashing, but I always had a soft spot for Sydney Carton [from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities].” Alynda Wheat was partial to Richard Carstone from Bleak House (“a man who’ll marry you when you’ve been altered by illness — lovely”), to all the Austen men, and to William Dobbin from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. A fellow staffer who wished to remain anonymous mentioned both Logan Bruno from The Babysitters Club books and Rob Gordon from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.

Who’s on your list?

Comments (263 total) Add your comment
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  • pop

    how long til someone says the dude from twilight?

    • springs85

      Looks like 8 minutes.

      • pop

        LOL!

    • lw

      hahahahaahahah

  • maddie

    Where is Levin from Anna Karenina?

    • J

      I second that. Konstantin Lewin is one the most selfless characters in literature and is actual the main character in Anna Karenina.

  • jen

    What a fun thing to think about! Agreed that Darcy is an unredeemed snob and I don’t like them at all in real life but there is something about the fictitious Darcy that makes him, well, hot. When he professes his love again to Elizabeth Bennet during that country stroll at the end of the novel–well, I could read that scene again and again. Wait, I guess I have!

    I’ll be the first but certainly not the last to add Charlaine Harris’s Bill Compton and Eric Northman to the list.

    • JackJack

      they put bloody Rochester at the top of the list and put Mr, Darcy at number four? and i’m sorry, but i hate hate hate HATED Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff, not so much my fav. He marries her sister-in-law. how is THAT romantic?

      and also, mark darcy likes bridget jones “JUST AS SHE IS.” how does that alone not make him number one?????? HE DOESN’T WANT HER TO CHANGE!!!!!!!! helloooooo. doesn’t that even appease the feminists in the group???

  • Shelby

    Mr. Darcy is tops on my list! First impressions aren’t always true.

    • Haldis

      I would also have chosen Fitzwilliam Darcy. Yes he is handsome and a brooding sort, but that is not what makes him irresistible. Austen knew what she was doing when writing the character of Mr. Darcy. She wrote a real man with flaws. Instead of the man of our fantasies or dreams, Mr. Darcy is the man we can hope to meet one day.

      • M

        Heck yeah! The only reason I even clicked on this list was to see where Darcy landed on it…And was shocked to see him as low as the blasphemous #4!!

      • paige

        Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      • LibbyP

        Ditto

  • susie

    edward cullen!!! he is so hot and sexy! im wish i find my edward soon…..

    • Andy

      he is a pedophile. you are aware of that dont you?

      • Bellatrix

        Except that he doesn’t have sex with Bella until she is legally an adult.

      • Trish

        LOL I’m not a Twilight fan, but according to your flawed logic, then so is every vampire in history, including Angel and Spike, for all you Buffy fans.

      • vivaxtina

        Nearly every leading man on this list has issues. Rochester- insufferable jerk. Rhett Buttler- much the same. Heathcliff (do we really have enough time for this one?) As far as the pedophilia goes, a number of romantic leading men have fallen for much, much younger ladies. Just because he isn’t part of a classic piece of literature doesn’t make him any less romantic. Cullen’s got my vote.

  • Emily

    I’m for Rhett Butler too. Although I can see the appeal of precious Mr Darcy. Rhett Butler has the bad-boy quality though :)

    • Rebeca

      Aaaaaaaah ! Ce lc3a9gendaire Dahut !(Tiens dans le resto’ c3a0 cc3b4tc3a9 de chez moi y a une tc3aate de Dahut accrochc3a9e c3a0 un mur. =] Osef oui)Sinon mon pimreer com’ pour dire (c3a0 Pakac2b2) qu’il dessine trc3a8s bien, qu’il a l’humour qui me convient (Si si j’vous jure ! Mc3aame si j’avoue que parfois j’comprends pas du pimreer coup, comme pour ce strip par exemple.)J’vais surveiller le ciel voir si le mioche approche.P.S. : S’tu veux y a un Hippie dans le village c3a0 cc3b4tc3a9 de chez moi. x)

  • Courtney

    John Thornton from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell…

    • Taylor

      I totally second John Thornton

    • Flyer

      Okay, I’ll third John Thornton. All the brooding of Rochester but with a much better heart and kinder spirit underneath. I couldn’t believe John Thornton wasn’t included on this list. I thought “North and South” was supposed to be a very well-loved and much-appreciated book in the UK!

    • Anahilazo81604

      I absolutely agree 100%. I love, love, love John Thornton. Especially Richard Armitage in the BBC Adaptation.

      • Chels

        Absolutely! He is so great

      • Isabel

        Add me to the John Thornton admirers!

      • Carol

        I agree with you, Gaskell’s John Thornton is in my top list.

      • tiff

        When I discovered John Thornton he made deciding between the others unnecessary, he is on his own.

  • Jess

    I have to admit, my personal choice is Mr. Darcy, but what about Wesley from The Princess Bride? He did overcome death to be with Buttercup.

    • sara

      i totally agree with that one, but mr. rochester is forever number one on my list. He did things wrong but in the end the pain and redemption of it made him into an even more amazing person.

    • Noelle

      Yes!!! The Dread Pirate Wesley is probably my #1 romantic hero. Smart, witty, and totally in love w/Buttercup.

    • Kel

      Ooooo definitely Wesley!

  • Kate

    Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon…He is amazingly sexy and he can wield a sword!

    • Ivy

      Seconded wholeheartedly!

      • KJ

        AMAZING! Jamie Fraser is absolutely my #1…well done Kate!

    • Lindsay

      And he’s probably the most complex, due to the fact that we see him grow and change over the series and his life (while still always in love with his Sassenach of course!). The fact that it also focuses on day to day life makes it even more romantic.

    • carolina

      Jamie Fraser is the MAN!!! That was my first thought when I clicked on this topic. I’m just now finishing up A Breath of Snow and Ashes.

      • s

        Totally agree with Jamie Fraser! I thought of him first, too, when I read this topic. One of the best characters in literature, romantic or otherwise!

    • Laura G.

      I agree Jamie Fraser is the sexiest man in literature because of his passion for Claire and hwo we see it grown and change over time.

    • Erin

      YES! I agree. That character makes me swoon.

      • Yasmin

        Jamie Fraser, most definitely!

  • Auriana

    1. Aragorn – Lord of the Rings
    2. Edward Rochester – Jane Eyre
    3. Fitzwilliam Darcy – Pride and Prejudice
    4. Rhodry Maelwaed – Deverry series by Katharine Kerr
    5. Severus Snape – Harry Potter series

    • Andy

      snape is romantic?

      • orville

        Sure, he did it all for the unrequited love of Lily.

      • Auriana

        Exactly.

      • jj

        Yes, Snape is actually a romantic hero.

    • NHS

      Auriana, I agree with you on Severus Snape. Flawed he maybe, but courageous, daring, and strongest person in new age books.

    • Cat

      totally agreeing with aragorn right there…

    • sara

      only when he is colonel brandon

      • redeye

        second that one!!

    • Liz

      OMG! Aragorn! Of course! How could I forget him!

    • Jess

      Great list, I cant believe Aragorn wasnt mentioned until your reply. Snape was really interesting choice, not something I would have immediately thought of, but definitely true.

      The only one I would add would be Wesley.

  • Jennifer

    Uh, Florentino Ariza from “Love in the Time of Cholera.” DUH!

    • A.R.

      Agreed.

      • A

        Florentino Ariza is obsessive to the point of insanity, not romantic.
        A lot of his affairs ruin (and even lead to the violent end of) his lovers’ lives. Besides, with over 620 sexual conquests, I’m shocked he doesn’t have syphillis. Not appealing!

    • jj

      Florentino drives America to suicide. Not my idea of a romantic hero.

  • a person

    Darcy is amazing…even though i personaly always liked Bingley better than Darcy (he is much nicer) but Darcy should still top the list! never read Jane Eyre, never want to. The person who should be mentioned is Captain Wentworth because Persuasion is awsome! also love how Bridget Jones gets mentioned! don’t know how Heathcliff makes the list because all he does is try and get revenge on people-he’s not likeable at all! glad twilight isn’t mentioned on here! (i am a girl who just finished high school, but still think Jane Austen is better than the horribly written Twilight books!)

    • Emmy

      I have to agree about Captain Wentworth. When I read the title of the post, my thoughts immediately went to him. That letter he writes Anne at the end of the book is completely swoon-worthy!

      • Heather

        yup – agree with Captain Wentworth. *swoon*

      • Tara

        I agree! Captain Wentworth needs to be on this list! I always have a tough time choosing between him and Mr. Darcy when I read Austen.

      • Rebecca

        Wentworth is far better than Darcy. The whole discussion on who loves the longest is the greatest bit of literature I have read in a long time…and I’m an English major.

    • paige

      Bingley is definitely more appealing than Darcy at a first look. I only put Darcy above Bingley because you see more of Darcy and his own struggles. I am so glad that you mentioned Captain Wentworth! I was about to comment about him being mentioned when I saw your post. And I agree COMPLETELY about Twilight- those 15 year-old girls need to learn what real literature is!!!

      • Jane

        I’m a fifteen year old teenager and i 100% guarantee that i hate twilight and read tons of literature :D
        Jane Austen is definitely an amazing writer, and Mr.Darcy is flawed yet still a good man.
        Not all of us are twi-hards.

  • welshgirl

    Why is Heathcliff on the list? He’s soo abhorrent! None of the characters in Wuthering Heights are good except for Hareton…honestly, none of them have any redeeming qualities.

    • orville

      I never understood Heathcliff’s status as a romantic hero either. He’s horrible and violent.

    • teacherlady

      Are you all kidding about Heathcliff? He is on the list because he is the epitome of raw, natural passion. We are talking about romantic characters right? He loved Catherine in life an death.

  • Steven

    I’d have to add Florentino Ariza from Love in the Time of Cholera.

    • jj

      Florentino is kinda creepy.

  • EAP

    I’ll have to give my vote to both Fitzwilliam Darcy and Heathcliff

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