By Janine Ashbless
But the deep-down cynic in me said, "Sure we like flawed women – because we’re women. Barbie makes us feel inadequate and jealous. Bet we don’t like flawed Men so much. Bet our heroes are just perfect."
So I started asking around for flawed heroes. And just to make it more difficult (because I’m a meany) I stipulated three completely arbitrary rules.
1) No out-and-out Villains. We had, for example, an early suggestion of Hannibal Lecter and I really don’t think he counts. His habit of killing and eating people isn’t so much a flaw as the entire point of his character: if he didn’t crash the boundaries by being a cannibal, what would there be left of him to make him such a modern icon? Nah: if you only fancy a character because he’s evil then his evil isn’t a character flaw; it’s a fetish-object.
2) No Darcy-alikes. I don’t count being initially cold, brooding and emotionally distant – even rude – to the heroine. This one pops up in trad romantic fiction a lot: it’s just Romance shorthand for "I’m an Alpha. In fact I’m so dominant nobody can be my equal or a close friend. Boy, am I a good catch! But my life is an empty shell without the Love of a Good Woman and the moment you break down my emotional barriers you will find that underneath it all I am passionate and loving."
3) No Fake Heartbreakers. You know; the guy who’s introduced by reputation as a total philanderer who leaves a string of conquests behind him, just so the heroine can get uptight and self-righteous while secretly she’s gagging for it. That’s Trad Romance shorthand for, "I am highly sexed. I will never slump in front of the TV with a tin of beer while you seethe and reach for the Rabbit. I will give you as much sex as you could ever want. Plus, the fact that women keep falling in love with me makes it clear that I am inherently desirable. But the moment I make an emotional commitment to the heroine I will miraculously become the model of lifelong devotion and faithfulness."
Tall order, eh? Let’s see…
Portia da Costa has not just writen about "Robert Stone: he's far from a young Adonis, with his greying hair and stocky build," but also "Gian Valentino Guidetti - his physical shortcoming is a tendency to suffer from migraines, which he makes into a huge drama."
And when it comes to other writers’ work, Madelynne Ellis likes "Sherlock Holmes – a melodramatic depressive cocaine addict!"
Deanna Ashford has a very understandable soft spot for "Richard Sharpe. He comes from a poor criminal background and initially entered the army to escape from being imprisoned as a murderer. He's not well educated and he is gritty and basic. Yet he is also very sexy."
And Nikki Magennis nominates "Philip Marlowe - I love how he fucks things up and often ends up getting beaten by the crooks. Oooh, and Sawyer in Lost. Oh yes."
Teresa Roberts suggests "Emerson from the Amelia Peabody Mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. He's hopelessly rude, has the social graces of an enraged bull elephant, and, although gifted, keeps screwing up his career because he's so tactless. It's the combination of high intelligence and complete lack of social sense I find charming in him."
Alana Noel Voth votes for "Randle McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) a mentally ill narcissist rebel rouser who defies the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He feigns insanity, which makes him even more scandalous and sly, and seriously he plays with fire."
Gwen Masters thinks a lot of "Dominick Birdsey in I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. He's the "normal" twin of a schizophrenic brother. All his life he has struggled to find his own identity, with the fear of having his brother's illness, the guilt, the anger...and he deals with all of it in a myriad of self-destructive ways. Flaws? This man is created of flaws. He describes himself perfectly in the beginning chapter: 'I never said I wasn't a son of a bitch.' Priceless!"
Alison Tyler says: "Sam Spade, the detective in The Maltese Falcon. He's slept with his partner's wife. He's not all that unhappy when his partner is shot dead, but he doesn't want the wife any more. He flirts with his attractive secretary, just stringing her along. Then falls in love with the woman whose case he takes, but sends her up the river anyway. (Of course, she deserves it.) He's pretty much a cold-hearted bastard. God, I love him."
Kristina Lloyd says: "I love Heathcliff. He scares and repulses me too but I find that hot. He is sex. He is the id let loose. Heck, he's borderline feral. People (and puppies) die because his love for Cathy is so vast and impossible to contain within orderly society. Wow, if that ain't devastatingly romantic, I don't know what is."
So gentle reader, do we like flawed, realistic, human men? Or can we only fall for fictional guys who epitomise either sexual perfection or dangerous villainy? Have our romantic heroes got to be bigger than real life? Where are the uglies, the fools, the klutzes, the failures? The people, in other words, like us?
Illustrations (Or, "Hands off – these are mine!"):
1) The Earl of Rochester: Colossally self-destructive. Dies of syphilis. A bit of a potty-mouth.
2) Nikolai Dante: A good man manipulated and bullied into working for brutal political tyrants.
3) The Phantom of the Opera: Disfigured homicidal control-freak – and that hair is a wig.