It’s very popular to read Jane Austen just now, which means it’s also very popular to complain about Jane Austen — a good friend recently told me that he was never dating a girl who’d read Pride and Prejudice again. Since everyone from Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant to Seth Grahame-Smith of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fame has already taken a crack at Jane Austen-related humor, I thought I would instead turn my eye to an often-overlooked problem: if sulky aristocrats like Mr. Darcy aren’t your thing, what hot guys are there for a good reader of English literature to lust after? The dead white men of the traditional English lit canon were surprisingly bad at providing their readers with good male role models (or underwear models), and so I’ve searched high and low to find the hunkiest hunks that you ever skimmed over in Language Arts class:
THE HUNKS OF THE WESTERN LITERATURE CANON
HECTOR from The Illiad by Homer
Okay, the ancient Greeks and Romans usually get their own category apart from “Western Literature,” so this is cheating a little bit — and I’ll restrain myself to one Greek in the interest of fairness, because those guys didn’t write anything without hunks in it. But Hector was so manly that medieval Europeans considered him one of the “Nine Worthies” that personified the very best attributes of guys everywhere. He’s also almost certainly made up, cobbled together from a Theban warrior that Homer had heard of and a few popular stories about really badass fights, making him a definite literary hunk rather than a historical one — and probably mostly put in for the ladies, who were pretty damn sick of hearing about Helen.
SATAN from Paradise Lost by John Milton
“The snake gets all the lines,” and some of those lines establish the fallen Satan as one of the hunkier hunks of Western literature — to say nothing of a highly charming and quotable fellow. He wanders around the first four books of Paradise Lost as a sort of James Dean with wings while Milton lavishes praise on the size of his spear and the eloquence of his arguments. After that he becomes less charming, gets bullied around by a couple angles, and winds up having to do the whole snake thing, but nobody reads that part. Skim through the first couple bits, drool over the shirtless angel, and move on.
CHIEFTAIN FERGUS MAC-IVOR from Waverley by Sir Walter Scott
Kilts are one of those things that either do it for you or don’t. If they do, Fergus Mac-Ivor is your boy. Forget Braveheart, this hot-tempered Scot does a little bit of everything manly: rabble-rousing, cattle-raiding, family-honor-upholding, and of course stomping the ever-living bajayzus out of occupying Brits without ever mussing his kilt. He sings and recites poetry, too.
D’ARTAGNAN from The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas was not a man to use one word where five would do, and so we hear all about how attractive the young D’Artagnan is at the start of The Three Musketeers. Like any good cavalier, he has long flowing hair, a long flowing cape, and a hat so extravagant that it, too, is presumably long and flowing. Ladies are unequivocally invited by the florid prose to ponder what else might be long as D’Artagnan bounds through the weighty tome unsheathing his sword so many times that even his fellow musketeers think he’s overdoing it a bit.
DORIAN GRAY from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was famously queerer than a football bat, so it’s probably no surprise that the handsome young protagonist of his only novel is both beautiful and lovingly-described. He’s also a bad boy, indulging in all sorts of perversions so secret and titillating that Wilde only referred to them obliquely, using the fact that they were from a French book as late Victorian code for “kinky.” The book dwells at length on Gray’s inability to form meaningful relationships, but for man-candy, what’s better than a beautiful, shallow young thing with a taste for the exotic?
SHERLOCK HOLMES from various stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Doctor Watson isn’t so bad-looking himself, if we’re to read his self-effacing narration generously, but Holmes is still the “catch” of the pair for anyone who fancies them slim and intellectual (call me). We know that he’s athletic and skilled in various arts of self-defense, and women periodically throw themselves at him, to his great disinterest. “Hard to get” is part of the charm, and don’t forget that Watson describes Holmes as a good dresser and overall tidy man, “catlike” in his fastidiousness.
TARZAN from Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Neither Burroughs nor his readers wanted to put much time and effort into figuring out what a man who spent twenty years living with apes would actually look like: the original Tarzan is black-haired, gray-eyed, tall, tan, athletic, and endearingly loyal to his lady-love (he apparently didn’t ever pick up on the typical Great Ape approach to the birds and bees, i.e. gang rape, during those twenty years). He can dress up when Jane asks him to and spends the rest of his time running around in a loincloth and knife. Small wonder Jane Goodall got her start reading the Tarzan stories and dreaming about how she would have made a better wife than Jane.
Got a favorite that I missed? Drop me a comment and I’ll remedy the glaring oversight! This list is, after all, for posterity, or at the very least for well-formed posteriors. And for lusting after someone more delicious than Mr. Darcy.