Love You — Literarily

  • By Tara Laskowski
  • February 19, 2018

What do the characters we fall for say about us?

Love You — Literarily

With Valentine's Day just last week, I've been thinking about literary crushes — fictional characters that made you fall in love with them. I asked my husband who his crush was, and he told me Lady Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises.  

"It’s been a while since I’ve read it,” he said, “so I’m not sure I can recapture what I felt as a teenager encountering her for the first time, but she struck me as modern and independent and worldly but vulnerable, too — that mix — and ‘damned good-looking,’ of course. That’s how Hemingway put it, sexy and sexual both in ways that seemed everything a guy would want. And all the guys in the novel wanted her, too.”

Then he asked, "Well, who are yours?" And that's when the wheels started to fall off this column idea. Because, you see, I realized that I am actually mortified by my literary crushes.

Well, most of them. The biggest ones — the ones that burned brightest in my memory (and in my fluttering heart) — are terribly, terribly embarrassing in hindsight. I do not have any Victorian hero to cite. No obscure French villain. No artfully written tragic figure from a classically trained writer.


The characters I most fell in love with? Well, for starters, Howard Roark, the cruel, megalomaniac sociopath from The Fountainhead, of all books. Oh, man, did I love him! And I loved that book! I lay on my college dorm-room bed, turning those pages, eating it all up, certain that I'd never love a book as much as I loved that one. (cue scratching record needle, please.)

And then there was Robert Kincaid, my high school crush from the crazy-sappy and yet oh-so-effective The Bridges of Madison County. How could you not pine for that kind of strong yet lost love? I had the whole thing pictured in my mind, and it was all so achingly beautiful. I distinctly remember going to see the movie in the theater and being so angry that they hadn't gotten Francesca's dress right.

And then, made much more embarrassing by the fact that I was a full-blown adult when I read these, Edward from Twilight. Ughhhhh…….Really, Tara?

I remember reading articles about how grown women were going nuts over the Twilight series (here’s one from a psychotherapist that cautions that the books aren’t good for your well-being), and I was embarrassed that they’d hooked me. I had to step away from those novels because they had been unearthing some strange, awkward adolescent version of myself that I had no desire to return to. 

The only literary crush that I’m not embarrassed by is Jupiter Jones from The Three Investigators series, a middle-grade mystery series I devoured growing up — and still read today! Jupiter is the leader of a trio of boys who solve strange mysteries and crimes in their hometown of Los Angeles, and although he's always described as "pudgy" and "stocky" in the books, he's super smart, funny, serious, and kind.

Also, the books are great. (So stop judging me.)

Here’s the thing, though. It turns out that I’m not alone. Lots of people are embarrassed by their literary crushes. I did a Very Scientific Poll of my Facebook friends, and many of them prefaced their choice with, "This is embarrassing, but…" or "Don't judge me, but…" or, "Well, I was in college..."

In fact, though I never specifically asked for “first” crushes, most people immediately pointed out a character from their childhood or adolescence. Not surprising, since that’s the age when most of us are crushing on things — whether it’s another person, a fad, or a fictional character.

Some of the more popular choices were Meg, Calvin, or Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time, Rhett Butler, Lord Peter Wimsey, Archie Goodwin, Encyclopedia Brown, Harriet the Spy, and, of course, Mr. Darcy. 

Several friends enthusiastically proclaimed James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (with ALL the names) from Outlander (to quote one friend: “Because of all the sexin’”).

The bad boys and girls got some thumbs up, as well — from Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff and In Cold Blood’s Perry Smith to Therese Raquin. We also had a literal beast — Curious George made the list.

So even though we might be a little embarrassed by the characters we're drawn to in books, ponder this: How cool is it that writers can create characters that lead us to fall in love with them? So much so that even decades after reading the book, we can still remember those feelings?

As Sonia Perea-Morales writes, characters can be "written so beautifully…that we can't even imagine a world without them, yet we live in a world without them. They exist simply because a book of words is arranged in such a perfect way that they gave birth to some of our best friends."

So, yes, I may have outgrown my first literary crushes, but even so (like the first boyfriends I’ve also outgrown...ha ha) I have to give them credit for the importance they held in my life. Each one of those characters carved out, for a time, a space in my imagination that helped to feed my cravings for stories. And even if our relationship didn’t work out in the long run — well, there are lots of fish in the sea.

So, here’s to my next loves — in whichever pages I find them.

Tara Laskowski is the author of Bystanders and Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons.

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