7 of Literature's Most Desirable Leading Men

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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December 24, 2008 - 4:30am
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