7 of Literature's Most Desirable Leading Men

What did women do before we had People magazine to define ultimate attractiveness and tell us which leading man is the Sexiest Man Alive? Since the sexiness of said men is debatable and so many more worthy contenders are passed over, I suggest adding fictional men to the ballot. Literary characters are timeless; they never age, lose their looks or compromise their reputation. A self-proclaimed book nerd, I maintain that the most attractive men exist in the world of stories. Obviously I haven't read every book ever written and I prefer certain genres and characters, but let me nominate my top seven über-attractive men from literature. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)

1. Mr. Darcy (from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Ladies, regardless of how good Colin Firth looks in the infamous wet, white shirt, we know that it's the real Fitzwilliam Darcy who captures the heart of every Jane Austen fan at some point. He's deliciously dark. He broods. And yes, he's proud. And all this makes Mr. Darcy my number one leading man. What do I love most about Darcy? Besides the aforementioned brooding, which I cannot resist, his attractiveness increases with his willingness to go against tradition and societal pressures to love and marry the witty and independent heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet. Plus, all those repressed emotions! One of my favorite Darcy moments comes when Elizabeth and that horrid Caroline Bingley take a walk around the room and ask Darcy if he would like to join them. His flirtatious response?

"He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in the quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book...

"You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire."

2. Gilbert Blythe (from the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery)


Growing up bookish with a love for writing, I was convinced that Anne Shirley and I would be bosom friends if only I were Canadian and living in the fictional series. But although I wished for Anne's friendship, I wanted to steal Gil away for myself. He loves her from the beginning (red hair and all), gives her his teaching job so she can live at home, resiliently endures her rejection of his marriage proposal, and inspires Anne to write her first published book! And even though it takes her longer to realize his perfection, he waits until she realizes it's not sunbursts or marble halls that she wants. It's Gil: the perfect man for the chronically romantic.

3. Almanzo Wilder (from Farmer Boy and other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder)


Quiet yet courageous farmer boy Almanzo Wilder won my childhood heart as he won over prairie girl Laura Ingalls. A hardworking farmer who loved horses and carpentry, Almanzo proves his extraordinary bravery and noble character when he risks his life traveling on foot in a blizzard to look for wheat--which no one is certain is even available. He survives and saves the Ingalls family and the town! And while courting Laura, Almanzo picks her up in his carriage when she finishes teaching school. What a gentleman! Eventually, he suffers partial paralysis resulting from a nasty bout of diphtheria and always walks with a limp afterwards, but that only makes Almanzo all the nobler and totally swoon-worthy.

4. Mr. Rochester (from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë)


What can I say? Issues are hot, and Edward Rochester has an aura of danger about him and an abundance of issues. The (again) dark and broody hero of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester has a tormented sense of responsibility to care for his crazy wife locked in the attic, custody of a bratty French girl who isn't his biological child, Thornfield Hall and his name to uphold, and a burgeoning love for Jane to deal with. Perhaps it's just his dark, mysterious nature, or that he tries to do right, even risking his life, but lustful Mr. Rochester is a tortured soul. What woman could resist?

5. Edmond Dantès (from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas)


Better known as The Count of Monte Cristo in the book by Dumas, Edmond Dantès starts out as a dashing young sailor betrothed to the beautiful Mercédès. After being set up as a traitor to the crown, Dantès is sentenced to rot in prison and loses his fiancé to her jealous cousin! To seek out revenge and clear his name, Dantès reinvents himself and assumes six other aliases, along the way charming just about everyone in Paris with his ruggedly handsome looks and a smile both angelic and diabolic. A good man with a dark past? Quelle mysteriouse!

6. George Emerson (from A Room With a View by E.M. Forster)


When I travel abroad, I never meet dashing, disturbed Englishmen when there is a mix-up with our hotel rooms. Why is that? When proper, young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (she even brings a chaperone!) travels abroad in Italy, fortuitously she encounters the rogue George Emerson on numerous occasions: at a hotel, at an art museum and of course, while witnessing a murder in the streets, after which he catches her when she faints. When they meet accidentally on a lush Italian hillside, George personifies the romance associated with Italy:

"George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her."

Forbidden love considered socially irresponsible by Edwardian Englanders? Sign me up!

7. Enjolras (from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo)


Forget that lovesick pansy Marius. I prefer the charismatic leader of the student revolution, Enjolras. Just the sound of his name makes me want to quit my job and fight for France. A devout believer in democracy and equality, Enjolras's ragtag followers look up to him in awe, even the most cynical describing their fierce leader as a "greek god." Alas, ever the hero, Enjolras ends up a martyr for the cause, and that kind of conviction and passion makes my mouth water. Vive la France!

Although I mentioned only seven ideal mates here, I know I have more literary crushes and you do as well. Share the wealth in the comments while I catch up on my (re)reading.




job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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