I have always had a penchant for falling in love with fictional men. Usually they were from books, sometimes from movies and, occasionally, they captured my affections in cartoon form (much could be said for the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, whom I always preferred to his disturbingly Aryan-looking human counterpart). Looking back, I think I rarely had a schoolyard crush; after all, what eight-year old boy could live up to the brave standards set by the Hardy Boys?
Rather like normal crushes, though, my various fictional favorites would gain and lose a hold on my heart. I’m not sure now what I saw in the too-earnest Luke Skywalker (who must be clearly distinguished from the actor Mark Hamill). Nor can I really explain my feelings for the overly moralizing Peter Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia.
Going to an all-girls school from grades 7-12 might have unnaturally prolonged my ability to fall for invented characters. While I had the odd teacher crush, I was much more eager to make it to English class, where I could discuss the many attractions of characters like Odysseus and Mr. Rochester. Now that I am at a co-ed college, one might expect that I would finally decide to exchange fantasy for reality. That among the roughly 2,300 young men here – who are generally considered some of the best and the brightest of our generation – I would be able to discover a more worthy object of my affection.
The result, I have found, has been quite the opposite.
College has, instead, helped me clarify my passions for certain characters from my younger days. Although many have fallen to the wayside, there are two in particular who continue to stand out; two for whom my feelings are, I would say, as fervent – if not more so – as the day I first realized I had fallen in love with love them. Both are rather difficult-to-like, but extraordinarily appealing men.
The first, Mr. Darcy, holds a special place in my heart because he is the hero of Pride and Prejudice, the first Jane Austen novel I ever read, an event which sparked my enduring love and admiration for Austen in general. I find that it sometimes becomes tricky to distinguish Mr. Darcy from Colin Firth, who portrayed him in the wonderful 1995 BBC mini-series. While Firth gives his Darcy a certain highly appealing virility, it is ultimately the character himself whom I truly love. As insulting – “tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me” he says of Elizabeth Bennett – and rude as he can be, he is also honorable, steadfast and eventually able to recognize his faults. He fulfills every girl’s fantasy of having the power – not merely pretty looks but also personality and intelligence – to inspire good deeds, devotion and the general improvement of his temper. Mr. Darcy is, I would argue, the thinking-woman’s ideal man.
My second hero, Captain von Trapp, is slightly less easy to categorize. I remember finding him scary when watching The Sound of Music as a child; it was not until I re-watched the film about four years ago that I began to recognize his appeal, which is particularly evident when he is featured in the soft-focus so randomly but delightfully favored by the cinematographer.
About two years ago, I realized I was fixated on one scene in particular. It’s the easy-to-miss moment when Captain von Trapp, just home from his honeymoon with Maria, finds a Nazi flag hanging from above his front door, pulls it down and rips it up. Although Captain von Trapp is a principled man, who also quite attractively rails against Uncle Max for being thankful that the Anschluss happened peacefully, it was the flag-ripping scene that solidified my love for him. To find a man so sure of his principles, so able to stick to them (and so able to declare to Maria that “there isn’t going to be any baroness”) is truly difficult in real life. With every “real” guy on whom I’ve had a crush, I realize that I have been silently wondering whether he would have what it takes to rip down that Nazi flag. I have found that my answer is usually a disappointing “No.”
Looking over this, I realize that my dependence on – and affection for – fictional characters may seem unhealthy. I don’t think it is (or so I hope). I look at it more as saving me from a series of mundane and uninspiring relationships. There is also no risk that a non-existent man can love you back, thereby avoiding the unfortunate Groucho Club effect that male affection inevitably inspires within me.
Of course, I don’t honestly believe that love is going to come to me in the form of rejection at a ball or the sudden blowing of a whistle to summon many Austrian children (I would, in fact, prefer if there were not a brood of children preceding me). But, until I find my real-world equivalent, I can think of few things better to do than re-read Pride and Prejudice and re-watch The Sound of Music.