The monthly Classic Club meme this month is more devilishly difficult than most we’ve had so far. Which is why it’s taken me so long to think of an answer.
Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”
Now I can think of many leading men from classic novels who’ve captured my imagination – some of them tending to the mad, bad and dangerous to know category (I drooled over Heathcliff as a teenager) or impossibly handsome like Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago (especially when played by Omar Shariff) . Likewise many leading ladies whom I’ve admired for their feisty characters (think Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice). But I don’t think of them really as ‘heroes’ or ‘heroines.
That’s because when I hear those terms, I think of them in the very traditional sense of people who are courageous and strong, the kind of guys or women who would risk their life for the greater good. He (or she) is no ordinary man in the street kind of person, but someone with outstanding quality and greatness like Odysseus. They need that greatness so they can stand up to villains defy incredible odds and save a distressed damsel or battle for the underdog against those who would oppress them.
Measure Heathcliff against those requirements and he fails on a few counts. He runs away when he hears Cathy making disparaging comments about him while his outstanding quality seems to be his desire for revenge. He’s not at all interested in anyone else other than himself so don’t expect him to come to your aid.
To her credit, Lizzie Bennet does stand up for Mr Wickham whom she thinks has been unfairly treated but her assessment is inherently flawed. She also takes a courageous stance against the patronising behaviour of Lady Catherine de Burgh in the superb encounter between them towards the end of the book but isn’t that really because it serves her own interest?
The more I thought about this, there was only one true hero I could think of from all the classic novels I’ve read – Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird. Now here’s a man who is determined to fight for what is right even when it pits him against many of his neighbours. His desire is to see justice served (at any cost). “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”
So considerable deliberation found me a hero. But I still haven’t found me a heroine…………..