Sunday, July 28, 2013

First (Fictional) Boyfriends


As my most recent novel was wending its way through the publishing process last winter, a few women working at Simon & Schuster in Canada grew rather fond of my modern-day hero, Rob. They even created this Tumblr post, which made me laugh. And the concept of having great taste in one's fictional men got me thinking of all of the heroes I'd fallen in love with myself in the books that I'd read. Far too many to count.

Then I started to wonder: Well, who was the first?

Because surely the first love, with fictional men as with real ones, would leave some discernible mark on the memory and be something special.

My first thought was that it would have to be someone from L.M. Montgomery's books: Kenneth Ford, from Rilla of Ingleside, always a favourite of mine; Barney Snaith from The Blue Castle, or the more obvious Gilbert Blythe. Gilbert, with his swoon-worthy good looks and good-natured charm. Gilbert, who says things like: "I have a dream. I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true..."

And yet...and yet, the more I sat and thought, the more I realized it was none of those, because before I'd met them in the pages of their books my heart had already been captured by a man who'd won me over by degrees as I had watched him grow from boyhood, from a farmer's stubborn son into a patient, quiet homesteader who always seemed to be there at the moment he was needed.

Almanzo Wilder
"Laura's dread of strangers came over her and the open door ahead seemed a refuge from their eyes.
      She did not notice a touch on her coat sleeve until she heard a voice saying, 'May I see you home?'
      It was Almanzo Wilder.
      Laura was so surprised that she could not say a word. She could not even nod or shake her head. She could not think. His hand stayed on her arm and he walked beside her through the door. He protected her from being jostled in the crowded entry."

Of course I'd noticed him before that, and it wasn't the first time that he had rescued her (nor would it be the last) but with that simple question, 'May I see you home?' towards the end of Laura Ingalls Wilder's book Little Town on the Prairie, Almanzo Wilder laid claim to my heart. He was my first.

I suppose you could argue that he's not entirely fictional, since he and Laura were actual people, but Laura took enough liberties in writing her Little House series of books that I feel like he counts. And he set the bar so high, in my view, for all of the heroes who tried to come after him that many never did make it. A fictional man might have all the right lines and a great set of abs, but if I couldn't picture him driving a small two-horse cutter twelve miles in a blizzard that froze the thermometer colder than forty below, just to bring me back home to my parents, then I wasn't interested.

Which helps, I suppose, to explain why I never had much time for Heathcliff, and why my own heroes all tend to be quiet, dependable men.

Who was your first great fictional love?

18 comments:

  1. I had a bit of a crush on Judah Bow in Ruth Park's "Playing Beattie Bow" in early secondary school, but any fictional crush I might have had in the past (and there weren't that many) have been totally eclipsed by John Moray from "The Winter Sea". Although he may not be totally fictitious either. And David Fortune left a lasting impression, too.

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  2. I loved Dick in the Famous Five (Julian was a bit too stuffy for me :-)). But I can't remember if he was my first fictional love - that might have been one of the fairy tale princes like Charming or Philip as I was totally into those!

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  3. Pinkie in Graham Green's Brighton Rock - really mad, bad and dangerous to know and I was convinced if I met him I could change him. I was sure I could touch the 'real' boy, would make him love me and reform. Re-read the novel recently for the first time since I was a teenager and couldn't believe I'd had such a crush on such a nasty person - but it left me with the notion that the love of a good woman....

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  4. Anonymous: Aw. That's so sweet. I don't know how close I came in my fictional John to the real man himself, but judging from the letters that he wrote, and that were written to him during his lifetime and written to his brothers by others just after his death, I don't think I was too far off the mark.

    Christina: Do you know, I've never read the Famous Five? But as you and I have very similar taste in men I'm sure Dick would be my favourite, too :-)

    Mary: Definitely mad, bad, and dangerous to know! But that can be so appealing when you're a teenager, can't it?

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  5. Tricky question. The earliest crush I recall is Jeff in Lois Duncan's Stranger With My Face.

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  6. My first book boyfriend was Theodore Laurence or Teddy in Little Women. And my first book heartbreak was when Jo turned him down. However, I did come to appreciate Prof. Bhaer in later years.

    In more recent years, I've had many crushes, including the dreamy John, Edmund O'Connor and Rob McMorran!

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  7. Dina: Another book I've never read. It looks spooky...

    Renee: I came to appreciate Professor Bhaer in the late 1970s when they made the TV miniseries of Little Women with a young(er) William Shatner as the Professor. (I'm a Star Trek girl). And I appreciated the Professor even more when they made the film with Gabriel Byrne in the role :-)

    I actually did a post about the whole Professor Bhaer thing here, a few years ago: http://theheroineaddicts.blogspot.ca/2010/09/princes-in-disguise.html

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    1. Loved Gabriel Byrne in that role!

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  8. Hilary Shenstone in Tryst by Elswyth Thane.

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  9. What a great post! i adored the little House series. I think i was too young when I first read them to truly appreciate Almanzo as a boyfriend. i may have to go back and re-read!

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  10. I was terribly fickle with my first literary love... I couldn't decide between Archie, Charlie and Mac in Louisa May Alcott's "Eight Cousins". Then I threw them all in for David Cassidy...

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  11. For me, it was John of Gaunt in Anya Seton's Katherine - heaving a gusty sigh just thinking about him!

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  12. My first book love was Garion/Belgarion from David Eddings' Belgariad/Malloreon books. He starts as an illiterate almost-fifteen year-old, and even though he becomes the most powerful human on his world, he is still decent, hardworking and serious. He also matures nicely into a family man, completely in love with his wife and loyal to his friends and family.

    It's been over twenty years sinc I fell for him, and he still makes my literary knees wobble :)

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  13. This is tough but I'd have to say Ned Nickerson of the Nancy Drew books! I was hooked on those from a very young age and kept them all for my daughter to read some day.

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  14. My first was Kester Woodseaves from Mary Webb's Precious Bane.

    'I never knew a mother's love, nor yet a sister's, nor yet a sweetheart's.' He said it ever so softly, but despert earnest, so that the words burnt in. 'But if I had, I should have forgot 'em all three when you said those words to me, Prue Sarn!'

    Sigh.

    My worst case of literary lovesickness lately was over Andrew Deacon.

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  15. bj: I've not yet read "Tryst", but I have it sitting close to the top of my TBR pile. I've heard such good things about it. Can't wait to meet Hilary.

    Jenny Q: They're definitely worth a re-read :-)

    Janet: Ah, David Cassidy! He was probably my second TV boyfriend (my first was Mr. Spock).

    Pamela: Good choice as well. Hope your flight back from Atlanta was OK? Did you avoid the thunderstorms?

    Keira: Sounds like a man I'd love, as well. I'll have to add those books to my reading list.

    Rebecca: I read all the Nancy Drews, too. Ned wasn't really my type, I guess, because I can't honestly remember much about him.

    Anonymous: That's a great quote. And I'm glad you liked Deacon.

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  16. Mark from Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart

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  17. If we discount Gilbert Blyth then my first and greatest literary love is Lord Peter Wimsey from D L Sayers detective series. Most especially when he's falling in love with Harriet Vane.

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