Monica Dyson: Even the cads had some sense of chivalry

Aidan Turner as Poldark.
Aidan Turner as Poldark.
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If you can’t find romance, it seems that losing yourself in the pages of a book is the next best thing.

A poll by libarary readers to mark Valentine’s Day revealed some quite predictable results.

I must mention Aidan Turner, the new Poldark – wow, you are never too old for lust, ladies

Usually Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice tops every poll, but on this occasion Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre joined him as a joint and worthy winner. And not a Christian Grey in sight.

In a nationwide poll, Mr Darcy again came top, but with surprising contenders in the list. In second place came Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables and my teenage self would not have argued with that.

Mr Rochester made the list, but also Almanzo Wilder from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, George Emerson from Room With a View by EM Forster and Enjolras from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

Once you’ve read the book, the next best thing has to be a convincing portrayal of your hero on stage or screen, and I must mention Aidan Turner, the new Poldark – wow, you are never too old for lust, ladies.

One of my own special favourites has to be Heathcliff from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and I’ve rarely been disappointed by any portrayal of him, forgetting the time Cliff Richard played him. The stage show Heathcliff in 1996 was well received by legions of devoted Cliff fans and broke all box office records, even though one critic did describe it as Living Dull. So what is it with women and escapism? Ever since I can remember, Mills and Boon have transported women into another world, of romance and swashbuckling heroes. Their publicity blurb stated that they were ‘bringing romance to life’.

By the 1950s when local libraries were in decline due to the advent of television, Mills and Boon started to sell in newsagents and became the largest selection of the paperback market. Storylines of today do contain modern themes, with contenders like the Black Lace range of books which are erotic fiction (so I’m told...) written by women, and becoming increasingly popular.

Psychologists say that a huge number of issues seen in their clinics are influenced by romantic fiction when women become dissatisfied with their real relationships and are often unable to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Even if the hero was a complete cad, there was an air of chivalry prevailing which women despite having fought long and hard for equality, secretly desired.

However, I prefer to describe chivalry as just basic good manners and at our age if a man holds a door open for us or offers us a seat on a bus, then it shows that his mother has taught him well.

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