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Best Romantic Heroes in Literature

Updated on July 16, 2013

What Traits Make a Romantic Hero?

What are the few of the traits that make a romantic hero?

  • Strength
  • Intelligence
  • A moral code (sometimes...)
  • Inner conflict
  • Devotion to the woman he loves
  • Willingness to self-sacrifice

Romantic Heroes for the Ages

If you're in the mood to escape into a little fantasy of the romantic sort, the options are daunting--traditional romances (like Harlequin novels), chick lit, general fiction, Westerns--you can find romantic heroes in almost every genre.

The most romantic and timeless heroes, however, are found in classic literature--men that have appealed to readers throughout the generation and become cultural touchstones in identifying what makes the perfect partner.

What do these men have in common? Well, most of them are "gentleman"--though some exist and love from society's shadows. But all of them have traits of strength, intelligence, and utter devotion to the woman they love.

Read on for the best romantic heroes in literature.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

Mr. Darcy, from "Pride and Prejudice"

Fitzwilliam Darcy may very well be the first romantic hero you think of when you think of the term! The hero of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," he set hearts fluttering on the page for generations, and then on-screen with first the Laurence Olivier film adaptation and later the BBC miniseries with Colin Firth.

Mr. Darcy begins the novel as an almost insufferable snob--his wealth and social circle have left him the victim of his own pre-conceived notions about the Bennet family, who he meets at a country dance. However, he is soon charmed by the vibrant, intelligent Lizzy Bennet and finds himself falling in love, going to great lengths to help her family when it's needed.

He's handsome, rich, and a gentleman, and though he may not always have the smoothest way with words, he's the ultimate romantic hero.

Mr. Rochester as Portrayed in Film

Mr. Rochester, from "Jane Eyre"

Edward Rochester may be the other romantic hero you first think of--like Mr. Darcy, he's a gentleman with money and an estate who falls in love with a woman who is not his social equal but who is certainly his emotional and intellectual equal.

Rochester is a darker, deeper sort of hero though--more tortured, with more in his past--and that also gives him that extra thrill of danger that makes a romantic hero exciting.

When Jane Eyre, a plain orphan, travels to Thornfield Hall to serve as a governess, she doesn't expect to fall in love with its capricious, difficult master--he teases her and ultimately betrays her, but their love remains.

Rhett Butler in Film

Rhett Butler, from "Gone with the Wind"

If Mr. Darcy is the perfect gentleman romantic hero without a blemish on his past, and Mr. Rochester is our dark and and jaded romantic hero, Rhett Butler is the American version that falls somewhere in between.

Rhett Butler is not such an appealing hero because he is born a gentleman or because he has the appropriate social graces; it's because he flouts the rules of society without exactly breaking them, making him both dangerous and safe at the same time. More appealing even than that is his ultimate devotion to Scarlett, the woman he loves--until the very end, he constantly sacrifices for her, puts her above himself, and patiently waits for her to realize she's in love with him, through other husbands and an ill-fated infatuation with Ashley Wilkes.

Rhett takes care of Scarlett, which even in today's feminist society is a deeply appealing trait in a man--making him one of the best-loved romantic heroes in literature.

Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff

Heathcliff, from "Wuthering Heights"

Heathcliff is another classic romantic hero, though unlike the others he isn't born into a gentleman's status--he claws his way up to wealth, and his savagery sometimes crosses the line into sociopath territory (he does, after all, get married just for revenge and hangs his wife's dog from the garden gate).

Despite his thirst for vengeance, Heathcliff also embodies the hallmarks of a romantic hero. He's handsome, brooding, conflicted, and consumed with his love for one woman. That their love becomes twisted and toxic doesn't make him any less of a romantic hero, at least in a technical sense.

Who is your favorite romantic hero?

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Ralph de Bricassart, from "The Thornbirds"

We can be honest here and say "The Thornbirds" isn't exactly literature. It's a classic '80s read but generally isn't shelved next to the greats. However, it still has a great romantic hero (one of my favorites) and I couldn't resist putting him in the list.

Father Ralph de Bricassart is a priest in Australia, devoted not so much to God as to his own ambition to rise within the papacy. The story begins in 1915 and ends in 1969, during which time Ralph gets tangled up with the Cleary family, who move to Drogheda to help a wealthy relative run a sheep farm.

At first Ralph is a mentor to the precious young Meggie, but as she grows into a woman they fall into a forbidden love, and the way they come together and fall apart throughout the decades means you need a box of tissues nearby.

Though Ralph is flawed as a "perfect" romantic hero in that he can never put Meggie first in his life (there's always God, and then his ambition), he still fits the mold otherwise: strong, intelligent, handsome, and deeply in love with one woman.

Best Romantic Heroes: In Conclusion

This list is the tip of the iceberg as far as romantic heroes go--favorites vary, and not all of them exist in literature (for instance, women swoon over Edward from "Twilight" and Christian from "Fifty Shades of Grey," and that's about as far from literature as you can get).

Who is your favorite romantic hero? Share in the comments below!

Read the Books!


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