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My husband, the vampire
One of the top trending topics on Twitter is the #FictionalCharactersIWantToMarry hashtag, and the choices are telling. Gone is the tall, dark and handsome hero, with his sardonic smile and crushing embrace. In his place are slurping vampires and creepy Christian Greys.
In the Convent school that I attended, the authorities regarded men and plague-bearing rodents with the same degree of tight-lipped distrust. So - barring one slave-to-the-cyclostyle-machine named Cyril and two tormented "Sirs" - very few men breached our sturdy walls.
In the school library too, toothsome male protagonists were in woefully short supply. Books were carefully screened before being placed on the open shelves and the rest disappeared into the mysterious maws of a locked Godrej Cupboard. So the only fictional boys we ever bumped into were bossy, bland or just a little too fond of mice and mud. For example, Julian (the blond, domineering member of the Famous Five with a penchant for statements like 'Don't be a fathead' ), Ned Nickerson (Nancy Drew's antiseptic beau) and William (Richmal Crompton's naughty, schoolboy who, if he ever suspected that he was an object of romantic interest, would have scowled ferociously, brandished his bow and arrow and decided that "Pale Face must be scalped and cooked and eat" ).
It was only when I became a member of a tiny but market-savvy lending library, that I finally met Georgette Heyer's dashing blades and foppish nonpareils - with their complicated cravats, ready wit and pretty titles. And, of course, the beautiful but ambitious Father Ralph de Bricassart and lovelorn Ashton Pelham-Martyn - the male protagonists of the two blockbuster books of the'80s, The Thorn Birds and The Far Pavilions.
These two figments of ink and imagination were the unchallenged fictional heartthrobs of those days, up there with Rhett Butler and James Bond. And if anybody had conducted a 'Which fictional character would you like to marry' survey in that pre-vampire-and wizard era, the mercenary priest and romantic soldier would have been wading in engagement rings.
Clearly, though, much has changed in 30 years - as a hugely popular discussion on Twitter indicates. Over the last week, Tweeters around the world have been participating in an online discussion that focuses on the 'Fictional Characters I Want to Marry'. The responses have been coming in thick, fast and gasping - and throwing up many surprises and questions.
Gone is the Mills and Boon hero - with his sardonic smile, crushing embrace and preference for black coffee. We now have a motley bunch of vampires, elves, demigods and wizards. Most of who belong on the shelves of children's libraries.
One does have to ask, how old are these Tweeters anyway? Who is it who wants to marry Dora the Explorer or Peter Pan? Is it a fully-grown adult? Or a five-yearold who just happens to be handy with Twitter? And isn't there something a bit scary about both scenarios?
And for that matter, why is Jessica Rabbit the hot favourite with male Tweeters? Anyway, if knee-high Dora - with her bobbed hair, squeaky voice and fondness for a monkey named Boots - can have admirers, it comes as no surprise that the Hogwarts crowd is considered perfect spouse material. This includes not just Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood but also sneery, bigoted, Draco Malfoy. Another member of the brat pack who has won hearts is Percy Jackson, the troubled and dyslexic New York youngster, whose world turns upside down during a school trip to a museum. First, he's attacked by a vengeful teacher. Then his friend turns out to be a satyr. After which the poor boy suddenly finds that he is a demigod and son of Poseidon, God of the Sea. Given the way his life is going, Rick Riordan's hero might just end up honeymooning in the Underworld or at the Door of Death - but that hasn't deterred his besotted fans.
Indeed, sifting through the eager matrimonial suggestions, it's apparent that the Twitterati hasn't a clue what marriage entails. Why on earth would anyone - unless they are the sorts who like to whip up a bowl of blood for breakfast - want to walk down the aisle with vampires like the morose Edward Cullen from Twilight? Or the acerbic Damon Salvatore from Vampire Diaries? Given my fear of injections, the very thought of marrying a bloodsucker - even a "vegetarian" one - has me reaching for a fat bulb of stinky garlic.
So no. Very few of the popular choices make sense as husband material. Christian Grey, from Fifty Shades of Grey is downright creepy. Spiderman will probably be too busy swinging between buildings to attend the kids' first concert. And elves named Legolas can only possibly appeal to Tolkein fans.
Who then makes good husband material? Almost none of the characters from the contemporary books that I read these days. Most modern-day detectives are slobs who don't brush their teeth. The few who actually bother with social niceties, like the dishy Adam Dalgliesh and the patrician Thomas Lynley, are pining for their dead wives. The heroes in chick-lit novels - the evolved male that the heroine finds after being deserted by her boorish, philandering husband - are characters without a single memorable feature or trait. While the types who pop up on the Booker lists are usually tormented souls, dreamy drug users or something-aniacs.
Clearly, the characters worthy of being wooed and wed belong to another era. Though even here, the tousled, smouldering guys who make the Romantic Heroes Top Twenty don't necessarily make it to the Sensible Spouse Countdown. Heathcliff, for example, may be good for mooching around the moors and brooding, but he certainly would be a liability during a family brunch at Indigo Deli.
Even so, there are a few promising candidates. There's moody but endearing Laurie from Little Women, the perfect boy-next-door who grows up into the perfect suitor but, for reasons never fully explained, is turned down by the girl. (Jo, how could you?)
Then there are Georgette Heyer's Regency heroes with their urbane manners and wit. And, of course, Jane Austen's male characters - not just the peerless Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pride and Prejudice but also the gentler Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion. And perhaps George Emerson in EM Forster's Room with a View, who despite being withdrawn and confused, manages to snatch both Miss Lucy Honeychurch and happiness from the arms of the prosy Cecil Vyse.
This list probably wouldn't fit into Twitter's 140-character format. But as the characters belong to an age of paper and pens and gentle courting, they probably wouldn't feel comfortable sharing the screen with sexual predators and slurping vampires, anyway.
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