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.
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.
Despite 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?