Sunday, 11 January 2015


How To Be A Heroine. Samantha Ellis

'If I were playing 'Snog, Marry, Avoid,' writes Samantha Ellis in her marvellous memoir, How to Be A Heroine, 'I'd still snog Heathcliff but I'd never try to marry him. I'd still avoid Rochester, because I don't think he'd make me happy. And maybe (thank you, Ms Du Maurier) I'd marry Jem.*'

Who would I play a literary 'snog, marry, avoid' with?

I fear I may have terribly bad taste and be tempted to snog Count Dracula, and then come to a sticky end like Lucy Westenra, stabbed through the heart by my fiancé with a wooden stake (to serve me right for dallying with bad boy Drac). Or being frightfully well brought up, I might marry instead of snogging and make hopeless choices like Linda in Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love, who first marries a very great bore in Tony Kroesig, and then mistakes convictions for passion in awful Christian Talbot, who loves principles far more than people. Happily, things improve when she meets divine Fabrice de Sauveterre, with whom she has the most delicious affaire.

I'd be mad keen to marry Lord Peter Wimsey, which makes it a dead cert he'd never fall for me - Harriet Vane eschewed his advances for at least two books til he was champing at the bit, and I'd never have that kind of sang froid. I wasted several afternoons imagining myself locked in a hectic snogathon in a posh stable with Rupert Campbell-Black, until I discovered Jilly Cooper based his character on Andrew Parker-Bowles, who I'm sure is a delightful chap but really not at all the RC-B of my dreams. Avoiding all the usual suspects is easy (St John Rivers, no thanks, ditto Mr Collins) but I have always felt that Gabriel Oak would make an excellent sort of husband - 'when I look up, there you'll be, and when you look up, there I'll be', as would James Bond if one had a lot of one's own extra curricular interests, and the ability to turn a blind eye to things that happened 'overseas'.

It's natural, isn't it, to put oneself in the heroine's position in relation to the hero in a book, and imagine what might happen after the 'Reader, I married him,' or the happily ever after, or if Mark Darcy was a tiny bit on the lights out, rummages under nightie side after the sexual olympiad of Daniel Cleaver, and if the allure of Wickham's ways wore off for Lydia after they were married. Or is it just me that suffers from excessive literary prurience?

Actually, speaking of Jilly Cooper, in 'Harriet', one of Cooper's 'name' books, the eponymous heroine's Oxford tutor, Theo Dutton, asks her to write him the kind of essay that would have got him a coating of Stop Sexual Harrassment stickers on his office door in my day.

His hard, yellow eyes gleamed through his spectacles. He was smiling, but she wasn’t sure if he was fooling or not. He always made her feel faintly sexy, but uneasy at the same time.
‘Now,’ he had said briskly, ‘for next week, write an essay on which of Shakespeare’s characters would be best in bed and why.’
Harriet flushed scarlet.
‘But I can’t . . .’ she began, then bit her lip.
‘Can’t write from experience? Use your imagination then. Shakespeare didn’t know what it was like to be a black general or a Danish prince, did he?’
‘Hamlet wouldn’t have been much good,’ said Harriet. ‘He’d have talked too much, and never made up his mind to, until it was too late and one had gone off the boil.’
Theo had given a bark of laughter.
‘That’s more like it. Write something I might enjoy reading.’

Romeo would have kissed like a carwash and got off one stop too early, Henry V would have been all gung-ho and slap-you-on-the-arse on the way up the stairs and 'haven't you got those trousers off yet, I haven't got all day'. I don't like to think too hard about Titus Andronicus.... Oh dear, I'm now starting to wonder about Karenin vs Vronsky, and the merits of Nick Carraway vs Tom Buchanan vs Gatsby ....

Anyway, which literary heroes do you think would have been best in bed and why?

[And do come and hear Sam Ellis talk about her literary heroines at The Books That Built Me at The Club at Cafe Royal on 21st January - tickets here]

* - Jem Merlyn from Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn who, as Ellis writes is 'just lawless and wild enough but not black-hearted like his brother'. 


Alicia Foodycat said...

I think Linda is lucky she didn't marry Fabrice. He would have made her terribly unhappy.

nappy valley girl said...

I loved Rupert Campbell-Black too...let's just pretend he wasn't based on hoary old Parker Bowles, shall we?

Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch always seemed rather attractive to me...but my top shag has to be Darcy. (Fitzwilliam, not Mark).