Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
The brooding, Byronic master of Thornfield Hall, for whom Jane goes to work as a governess to his ward, is something of a diamond in the rough. Dishonest, inconsiderate and domineering, his ability to switch between cruel and charming makes him one of literature’s most mercurial and enduring romantic characters. Women, as we know, love a project, and this one comes with plenty of baggage – in the shape of a crazy wife locked away in the attic. Reader, she did marry him; but not before he put her through the proverbial mill; and signed her on as a nurse. As we said, charming.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Arguably many women’s go-to period hero, Mr Darcy plays a clever game; one minute all haughty and indifferent, the next drily funny and charming. We love him for his ability to overlook Elizabeth’s relatively lowly social status; for his imperviousness to the advances of the snobbish Catherine Bingley; and for his loathing of the slimy toad that is Wickham. Oh, and did we mention Pemberley, his enormous estate? Darcy is not alone: the world of Jane Austen is packed with similarly flawed Fitzwilliam types, including Captain Wentworth from Persuasion, Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey and Mr Knightley from Emma.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
If you thought Rochester was tormented then brace yourself for Heathcliff, the central character of Emily Brontë’s only novel, set on the windswept Yorkshire moors. Yes, he morphs into a vindictive, vengeful tyrant in the book’s second half, but that level of passion deserves respect. And who doesn’t love an underdog? Plucked off the streets of Liverpool as a child by the benevolent Mr Earnshaw, his love for the privileged Catherine is passionate, boundless and, unfortunately, doomed. And the part where he calls her name from the window of Wuthering Heights into the howling Yorkshire gale? You’d have to be a robot not to feel something.
The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer (2005 - 2008)
Sparkly and unusually pale because he is, to all intents and purposes, dead, our vampire friend wouldn’t, on paper, make the ideal boyfriend. And yet to Bella Swan, and millions of Twi-hards across the world, Edward is perfect. Perhaps it’s his old-fashioned, chivalrous charm (he is more than 100 years old), or his unwavering devotion to Bella that has him creeping into her bedroom at night to watch her sleep. Either way, it is enough to override his less appealing characteristics; such as his appetite for blood; his cold-as-marble body or his aforementioned penchant for, er stalking.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
It is almost impossible to separate the character of Rhett Butler from the screen version played by Clark Gable. Made only three years after the publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it has since settled into the public consciousness as the definitive version of the story. Butler, in both, is cocky, wilful and persuasive, eventually persuading the spoiled and manipulative Scarlett to marry him. He is, though, despite his rogueish persona, vulnerable, loving her in spite of himself. But the Butler of the novel is more than that: he is also clever and wise, not to mention a doting father and stepfather – and who can resist that?
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (1908)
Anyone who, as a youngster, longed for a thatch of curly red hair probably did so because of Gilbert Blythe. It is he who calls Anne “carrots” and pulls her hair on their first day at school. Everyone can see that he has a huge crush on her – except Anne. He is kind, sweet and clever (one of the good eggs on the list), and perseveres even when Anne has convinced herself that she loathes him. Of course, they grow up and the inevitable eventually happens, by which time, frankly, we want Gil all to ourselves.
Maxim de Winter
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
There are shades of both Rochester and Heathcliff in Maxim, the bereaved husband in Du Maurier’s gothic thriller, set on the glorious fictional estate of Manderley. He is aloof and domineering, refusing to divulge to his new wife details about his former life. Tormented though he may be, the whirlwind romance that takes place at the beginning of the novel shows his softer side: impulsive and romantic, he whisks the narrator away from her tiresome employer for excursions around Monte Carlo. The combination is like catnip. And then of course there’s the dreamy name …
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
A misfit if ever there was one, Holden has a very specific kind of appeal – the kind that would have protective types flocking to take him under their wing. No one in her right mind would want to go on an actual date with him (you wouldn’t get a word in), but young girls have long held a soft spot for the angst-ridden teenager, who spends several days Awol in New York City, trying to come to terms with his feelings of alienation. There is a kind of naive charm to his ramblings. Just don’t get him started on “phonies”.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)
The beginning of Margaret Hale and John Thornton’s story bears similarities to the Darcy-Elizabeth dynamic: she thinks he is cold-hearted and rude, while he thinks she is snobbish and proud. Thornton, though, is a good man who runs his mill in the north of England with stolid compassion. He is straightforward with Margaret about how he feels, telling her simply that he loves her. In this age of coded dating games and cryptic e-mails, his honesty is refreshing. A diamond in the rough of the Rochester ilk.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (1999) by Helen Fielding
He’s the flirty boss with the great one-liners. Daniel Cleaver, cad through and through, is, against all our (and Bridget’s) better instincts, irresistible. While Mark Darcy is nice to the parents, Daniel is all about the minibreaks. We know from the start that he’s bad news but who can resist such confidence? Rupert fans, you know this type all too well.