For today’s blog, please welcome back Suzie Blue.
I am a proud, self-confessed bookworm. My earliest memories involve being read to, and my earliest revelations about people came not from social interaction but from literary characters. Admittedly not the healthiest way to approach life, but I think I turned out alright…
So whenever I struggle to understand real people now, I turn to fictional people to help me. As a single woman still (pretty much) in my prime I see many parallels between the men I meet and the men I read.
I’ve narrowed them into three categories – this isn’t definitive or exclusive, but does reflect my experience.
First, the Charmers:
These colourful characters like an audience and I imagine are pretty fun to write. Their confidence, social ease, good looks and good humour draws people in, but their emotions are skin-deep. The positive qualities mask insecurity, anger/resentment and fragility, and create a man who is volatile, insincere and selfish. F Scott Fitzgerald hit the nail on the head with Tom. I’m also inclined to include Vronsky (Anna Karenina) here, despite Tolstoy’s masterful characterisation, as in my opinion he is wholly responsible for destroying Anna’s confidence and eventually her life. The reader sees every side to Vronsky’s personality, but narcissism sits atop it all.
Next, the Troubled:
In both reality and fiction, I find myself drawn to this type most often. They are preoccupied, intelligent and sensitive, and fiercely protective either of their once-hurt feelings or the way of life they’ve cultivated in an effort to block those feelings. In a word: unobtainable.
In Burmese Days, I fell in love with Flory and his symbolic birthmark, and read in resigned sadness his tragic demise following Elizabeth’s rejection of him. Jay Gatsby had the same effect on me– he is not a Charmer despite his skilful deceptions; his quiet obsession with Daisy is heartbreakingly naive. Tragedy doesn’t always follow with troubled types though, Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre) and Levin (Anna Karenina) both get the woman they love. Their moral strength in the face of adversity ensures this. The same is not true of poor Dean Moriarty (On the Road), whose exuberance and energy masks an almost childlike bewilderment about life and guarantees him the constant complicated cycle of marriages and divorces.
The Perfect Men
It’s telling that the best literary examples of male perfection were created by female authors. Wishful thinking? Absolutely. Realistic? Definitely not.
Jane Austen had a supreme talent for creating wonderful men, and yet avoided allowing her strong-minded, outspoken, modern women to fall with a grateful swoon into their arms. Mr Darcy, Mr Knightley and the like all had to prove their worth.
Darcy in particular has become a cliché, only in part due to Colin Firth’s iconic portrayal. The intended message in Austen’s work is that marrying for love alone is what leads to true happiness. But just how many of Austen’s men who were eventually shown favour by her heroines were poor or badly placed in society? Exactly.
It wouldn’t be right for a female law student to talk about the perfect literary men and not include Atticus Finch. Read him as a teen and admittedly he may seem a bit too straight, maybe even boring. But read him as an adult and you will find him caring, moral, passionate and incredibly brave. But I consider myself a modern woman, so when I find my Atticus Finch, I’ll make him prove himself.