Liz Harris holding out for a real hero…

I can’t think of any real-life hero in any romantic novel I’ve read. And I include Pride & Prejudice in this. Romantic novel heroes tend to be the stuff of pure (or impure, maybe?) escapism.

By ‘real-life’, I mean someone you’d want to spend time with off the page. Mr. Darcy is fanciable because we see him through Lizzy’s eyes, and we like Lizzy. And he isn’t short of a bob or two, which always helps. In reality, though, he’d be a crushing bore if he was sitting next to you at a dinner table. As for Heathcliff – even worse! What on earth would you talk to him about? Yes, you do have to talk in between the other!

So for a fictional real-life hero, I chose Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. gregory-peck1

Widower Atticus was the father of Jean Louise, known as Scout, who was six at the start of the novel, which spans three years during the Great Depression, and her older brother, Jem. The story deals with rape and racial inequality in a southern state of the US – no, not a laugh a minute, I’m afraid.

Showing true bravery – a must for any real hero – Atticus takes on a case that no other lawyer will take: he defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.

Emotional moment. Atticus doesn’t want his children at the trial, so Scout and Jem watch secretly from the balcony. With the accused man predictably found guilty despite his obvious innocence, Atticus starts to leave the courtroom, now empty of all but those in the balcony.

Crouching low in the balcony, Scout watches her father start on his ‘lonely walk down the aisle.’ Nudged by the Reverend, she looks around her and sees that all ‘the Negroes were getting to their feet…

‘Miss Jean Louise, stand up,’ the Reverend said. ‘Your father’s passin’.’

I’ll also never forget the dog incident. A rabid dog is coming down the empty street towards Atticus and the sheriff, and the sheriff takes aim with his rifle. Then he lowers the rifle and hands it to Atticus. Scout and Jem ‘nearly fainted’ – they’d never seen their father touch a gun. Atticus gets the dog between the eye, and the children learn that their father was known as ‘the deadest shot in Maycomb County.’ He just wasn’t a man who needed to brag about his talent.

To Kill a MockingbirdDespite being a caring, if somewhat detached, father, an intelligent man who’s brave enough to defy a racist town, and the best around with a gun, Atticus Finch feels like a real person, not a fictional hero who wouldn’t be such off the page.

So why can’t I think of someone equally real and heroic in a romance novel? A ‘real’ person you’d simply love to sit next to at the dinner table?

Can you help me out with any suggestions?

45 thoughts on “Liz Harris holding out for a real hero…

  1. That’s easy, Liz – Will in Me Before You. The scene in which he goes to dinner with Louisa’s family just about broke my heart. In fact, that whole novel just about broke my heart. When I’m feeling strong, I’ll read it again.

  2. I, too, loved Me Before You, Margaret. I wouldn’t describe Will as a hero, though, although he makes a heroic decision in the face of circumstances beyond his control. His earlier attitude, understandable though it was, and his ultimate decision, equally understandable, make for an interesting atypical fictional character, but not necessarily a real-life hero as such, and certainly not one you’d want to sit next to at that dinner table.

  3. That’s a tough question Liz and I think the problem for me is that I don’t want them to be real! If I’m reading I want to escape to a place where everything is larger than life, including the heroes, and I like them that way. One possibility though is Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – he is larger than life, but he’s also very real and human.

  4. I can’t think of any either at the moment, Liz. But I have wanted to read that book for a squillion years and never got round to it! Thank you for whetting my appetite further. Sounds just like my kind of book. xx

  5. A tricky one that I’m going to have to ponder. But agree with Christina. I don’t want them to be real either. X

  6. I’m still chuckling at the thought of sitting next to Heathcliff at a dinner party. Wuthering Heights is one of my absolute favourite books because it’s so clever – who else could pull off a story about a nightmare of a hero and heroine? I think Christina’s hit the nail on head – I like my fictional heroes to be larger than life too. If you take, say, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, Gabriel Oak is brave, reliable and loyal and has many of the attributes you’d hope for in a real-life hero, but I can completely understand why Bathesheba Everdene’s head is turned by wicked Sargeant Troy. Oops, sorry – seem to be writing an essay not a comment. Thought-provoking post, Liz!

  7. Perhaps Henry Tilney from “Northanger Abbey” qualifies as the kind of romantic hero you could bear to live with in real life. Always had rather a soft spot for him because he seemed like a thoroughly decent bloke. Then there’s Faramir from “Lord of the Rings although one would be hard pushed to call LOTR a romantic novel. Aragorn is and will always be my favourite (and, no, it has nothing to do with Viggo Mortensen 🙂 I loved Aragorn way before he played the role!), but he’s probably a very serious dude, what with being king and all, and carrying the burden of the kingdom’s safety on his shoulders.

  8. Not sure I want them to be too real either – having said that would sit next to Viggo Mortensen anywhere if given the chance! I don’t want a romance hero who sits around in ratty old clothes moaning about having to cut the grass – yes this is a parallel from real life!

  9. I agree about Jamie Fraser: he manages to mix fearless Highland warrior with intelligent gentleman, and you can see how he’s sometimes awkward in both roles. And, at least before he learns about Claire’s time-travelling and becomes a bit more…modern, he’s very believable as a man of his time, and very much a man of honour, even when he really hates doing what he, or often his society, believes he should.

    Jennifer Crusie also writes lovely real-world heroes. They’re sometimes dishonest, or stupid, or blinded by lust, and yet they’re likeable and smart and generally good. And they’re funny. I’m thinking of Phin from Welcome to Temptation, stuck in a small town and trapped by family obligations and the expectations of the people around him: he doesn’t make grand ‘my way or the high way’ gestures like people in fiction do, he doesn’t try to change himself or the people around him, because the never really happens in real life. He faces up to things with humour and intelligence: now that’s a man I could fancy!

  10. Hmmm…. Difficult one. Of course, as an author you ladies can invest your heroes with all the virtues and vices you want. Atticus Finch will always be a prime choice. A good bloke to sit next to at dinner.

    Being a bloke, and turning things on their head, I’d posit a couple of leading ladies – 1 fictional, 1 based-on-reality; Julia Probyn, from several Ann Bridge novels (such exquisite and elegant writing) and Juana Smith, from Georgette Heyer’s The Spanish Bride. Women to know rather than just to lust over!!

    John

    PS: does your choice say much more about you as writers?? 🙂

  11. I’m not sure I’d call any fictional hero ‘real life’ but that could be because I’ve led a very sheltered – and deprived – existence. (Nearly put ‘depraved’ there, but that’s another story.)

    I’m with Henri, on Faramir – loved him in the book, loved him in the movie. LOTR was jam-packed with heroes – I even had a thing for Pippin!

    And slightly off topic, after seeing pics of Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black, I tweeted and asked if it was wrong to find him attractive – someone came back quick as a flash and said, “It is if you’re watching The Philosopher’s Stone.”

    Once Upon a Time on C5 is also full of heroes – and anti-heroes. (Pia, you know who I mean. 🙂 )

    My nearest real-life heroes probably feature in the early Dean Koontz books I’ve read – I think I fell in love with all of them, but especially Jim in Cold Fire. Dean Koontz heroes are often a bit special.

  12. I know he’s not a romance hero, but I could live quite happily in insanity with Zaphod Beeblebrox, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. As for romance heroes…most of them strike me as being far too opinionated and controlling to want to spend any time with in real life (although none of the CL books have such heroes, it’s very popular as a trope in ‘category’ romance).

  13. I tried a Diana Gabaldon once, Christina, but didn’t find it easy to get into. Maybe I should try again – the name ‘Jamie Fraser’ certainly has a manly ring to it! But you’re right about wanting to escape to somewhere, or to someone, who transcends the realities of life. Talking of realities, the ironing and post lunch washing-up await me!

  14. I think it a really lovely book. I believe that Harper Lee is still alive. The novel is based in part on her early years, and on an event that happened at the time she was very young. I don’t think there were any spoilers in my blog. I hope not, anyway.

  15. Having just observed my DH at the sink, in my pinny, I don’t know that I do either!

  16. I’d forgotten Gabriel Oak, Chris. Yes, he’s everything you said – and he’s also a bit boring. Sergeant Troy is much more fun. I like Hardy, and I don’t
    belong to the school of thought that finds Tess is the most pessimistic of novels: there’s quite an optimistic message in among the sadness. I have never liked Wuthering Heights, though. I much preferred the Dawn French version!!

  17. No one would have thought the Viggo Mortensen connection was anything to do with it, Henri. Oh, no!! I’ve never seen the LOTR films, nor got to the end of the first book. Fantasy is not my thing. Henry Tilney is OK as a man, but a little lost in what I find the least good of Jane Austen’s fabulous novels. I’ve always thought Catherine Morland to be an extremely stupid young girl, and that’s rather conditioned the way that I see Henry.

  18. Your OH and mine (in pinny at the sink at the moment) sound as if they’d make a right pair. Yes, I take it all back – bring on the romantic, escapist hero!! Viggo Mortensen is obviously man of the moment some of you. I think he’s a very good actor.

  19. I love Jennifer Crusie, Kate, although I haven’t read that novel. She tells a good story and creates terrific characters. And yes, they are more real than many you find in other romance novels, at the same time as being very romantic – in its broadest sense. I’ve put that title down, and after reading your’s and Christina’s comments about Jamie Fraser, I’m going to try another Diana Gabaldan. I liked her at last year’s HNS conference. I think I may have been unlucky with the novel of hers that I chose.

  20. Your PS has made me think. I wonder if it does.

    Georgette Heyer cannot put a foot wrong. I’ve loved her novels since I first picked up ‘Arabella’ and found that I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know the Ann Bridge novels, though. I’ve just looked her up – she’s quite prolific. I shall ask on twitter which you’d recommend.

  21. You are the second person to make a reference to Daniel Ratcliffe. I’m going to see him on stage in London in a couple of weeks. He’s in an Irish play at the Noel Coward Theatre. I have front row stalls! I loved the comment on twitter you passed on. LOL.

  22. It goes without saying that all of the Choc Lit heroes are all real heroes and also the ideal heroes of a romance!

    I haven’t read the Hitchiker’s Guide, although I obviously know a bit about it. Zaphod’s name alone is amazing! Now if he were a real-life hero, he’d be blaming his parents for giving him such a tough name to learn how to spell. It should surely be enough for him to have had two heads and three arms to cope with!!

  23. Liz,

    Captain Wentworth from Persuasion for me 🙂 (this may have a little to do with Ciaran Hinds playing him in the 1995 film…

  24. He is good-looking, isn’t he? I cheated a little – that wasn’t him in To Kill a Mockingbird; it was from another film. He was less sultry in TKAM, and I wanted the sultry look.

  25. And Rupert Penry-Jones played him oin a fairly recent TV production, I think, Jane. He made a very good-looking Captain Wentworth. Anne’s a little wet, though, isn’t she? She didn’t really deserve him.

  26. I guess that’s why I like the beta heroes in my books because they’re more translatable (into being likeable) in real life.
    Can’t think of my ideal fictional hero off the top of my head. Hopefully we all fall in love with the heroes we’re writing at the time, though.

  27. I certainly echo the falling in love with one’s heroes, Beverley. I’ve just said goodbye to Conn Maguire as I’ve finished proofing A Bargain Struck, and it’s a sad moment.

  28. I am with you Beverley – These super rich, brooding alpha males are not my cup of tea at all. I like heroes with as sense of humour. Having said that – I also like strong heroes, and dark and damaged heroes. So – I guess I fall in love on a case by case basis. But I agree with Liz – Atticus is a wonderful hero. And that scene as he leaves the courtroom makes me cry every time I read/see it.

  29. Crikey Liz, tough job. Lots of these names resonate but I think Captain Wentworth for me, especially Rupert Penry-Jones version, lots of pent up passion there.
    My current hero is Rob Lowe after spotting a rather smouldering shot of him on last weeks Times magazine, gorgeous even at nearly fifty with a touch of all that bad boy living, now tamed into fidelity and family man by his down to earth make-up artist (there’s a story in there somewhere).

  30. Hmm, another one who’s married his make-up artist. David Jason did that, too. I’m sure that I’d recognise Rob Lowe if I saw him, but I can’t put a face to his name right now. I’m off to remedy that!

  31. I absolutely agree, Janet. In Kansas City, at the RT Booklovers Convention, I said that I thought a sense of humour was the most attractive, sexy characteristic. I still do.

  32. I am with Margaret Kaine totally re Gregory Peck……and I’m going to have to choose him when he played opposite Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday….that kiss before she went back to her real life….swoon. And what a gent he was, never to spill the beans…:)

  33. I absolutely loved Roman Holiday, Linda. And talking about Audrey Hepburn, one of my favourite of her films was Sabrina Fair. It was romantic and fun.

  34. I too am a Jamie Fraser fan but I also have a soft spot for PG wodehouse’s Psmith funny and unpredictable.

  35. I, too, love Wodehouse, Zana. He is sooo funny. But Jamie Fraser, I don’t know, and you are the third person to mention him. I’m going to make a point of reading something in which he stars, and I’m going to do that soon.

  36. My goodness you set the ball rolling here Liz. I think Atticus an excellent choice. I loved his character and I loved the novel. Now I do wonder here. My choice could possibly be Dr Zhivago himself as he was such a great hero and suffered much. However sustaining a conversation in Russian might be tricky. From real history I do wonder about the much maligned Richard 111, handsome and educated ever though he had a spine curvature. I think he could be a fascinating dinner guest. There would be many questions for him. Truth might out.

  37. Liz – if you’re going to read Diana Gabaldon you have to start with the first book as it’s a series – “Cross Stitch” it was called over here (“Voyager” in the States?). Otherwise they won’t make sense 🙂

  38. Richard 111 is an unusual choice, Carol, and fun to think about. I like to think I wouldn’t be put off (too much) by his appearance, but would strive rather to find an inner beauty in him. Hmm. I’m now thinking of those little princes in the Tower…

  39. Many thanks for that, Christina. I didn’t realise it was a series – I thought each one was a stand alone. I shall certainly get Cross Stitch. I shall be off to Italy in July, and that will be the first thing I read when lying by the pool. I might well blog about it when I get back.

    It’s quite exciting to find a character/author, and I’m looking forward to making Jamie’s introduction – especially if he’s as dishy as some of you think he is!

    Strike out that last comment. It makes me sound shallow. What I meant was that I look forward to exploring his mind. Yes, that reads back better.

  40. The only ones that stand out for me, as I read this, are Ace Mulholland from Prudence and Gareth Llewellyn from Octavia – both written by Jilly Cooper. That’s probably because they were the first romantic heroes I ‘met’ who really seemed worth bagging. (Mind you – I was at uni when I read them, and they were a tad on the chauv side.)

    Maybe I’ll read future books with a view to whether or not I would really want the hero for myself.

  41. I don’t know these, Jan; they are new names indeed. I’ve picked up several new names, and the first of these I’m going to get to know is Jamie Fraser. It’s fortunate that I’ve just finished the book I was reading.

  42. I take strong exception to Darcy being rated a crushing bore – perhaps because my name is Elizabeth and I’ve been reading P &P since I was 12. I like heroes to have some flaws they struggle to overcome, in real life as much as in fiction. Must be brief as internet is intermittent but totally agree re Faramir and Henry Tilney…and am so in love with my latest hero.

  43. LOL As another Elizabeth, Beth – I, who was always known as Lizzy to my closest school friend – I claim the right. I think he’d be quite tedious to be next to, and whilst humour can be dredged up out of him, he wouldn’t make the effort to dredge it up himself. That spells out hard work. Nope, he wouldn’t be my number one table companion in real life, much as I adore the character in the novel.

  44. I think Jane’s hero Ben in Please Don’t Stop the Music strikes as a very real hero (if one discounts the rock star past!) I adore Jane’s books and I love how she can make me laugh out loud on one page and have me bawling my eyes the next. Ben is a lovely hero because he’s funny, but he’s also known great tragedy and sadness in his life.

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