Who is your idea of a romantic hero? Mr D’Arcy? Captain Jack Sparrow? Christian Grey?
I have an alternative to suggest to you, and I’ll explain why.
First, let’s look at what makes a romantic hero.
According to Wikipedia,
“The Romantic hero is a literary archetype referring to a character that rejects established norms and conventions, has been rejected by society, and has the self as the center of his or her own existence.”
Using this definition we can see how D’Arcy fits the bill: he rejects the expectations of his position in society to follow his heart and pledge his love to Elizabeth Bennett. And, judging from his letters, he seems extremely introspective and at war with his emotions much of the time.
But what would your definitions of a romantic hero be? Personally, he’d have to be smart, have a great sense of humour and be kind to animals. He would be willing to sacrifice his own ambitions to be with his love, put her desires on at least an equal footing with, or above, his own, and possibly have a troubled past which he struggles to overcome. Looking like Rufus Sewell wouldn’t hurt either.
Literature and cinema is littered with these ciphers and there can’t be a woman – or man – out there who hasn’t had a crush on at least one of them. Today, I’d like to suggest an alternative romantic hero to you: Hannibal Lecter.
Hear me out. If you don’t want to know about the character’s arc from Hannibal Rising through to Hannibal, stop reading now.
Lecter is a man with an extremely troubled past. He saw his sister eaten by the enemy during the war, he lost his position in society, and his family’s wealth was taken from them. Is it little wonder that these experiences damaged him so badly? For whatever reasons, he turns to canibalism himself, is caught and ends up in solitary confinement, using every opportunity he can to lash out and destroy others.
Then he meets Clarice.
He senses that Clarice too has been damaged and finds himself attracted to the much younger woman. He has many opportunities to kill her the way he has killed so many others before her, yet he doesn’t. He cares for her, and takes care of her. At the end of his story – or, at least, the end of what we have been told about him – he chooses to kill a man who has been rude to Clarice. Rude. He hasn’t physically hurt the young woman and Clarice seems well equipped to look after herself, but in the ultimate expression of chivalry, he takes Paul Krendler’s life because he insults his love.
As if this wasn’t enough proof of his romantic hero credentials, when Clarice handcuffs him to herself, he cuts off his own hand to retain his freedom rather than hurt her.
In the movie, Hannibal escapes and Clarice is left confused and stunned by what the Doctor has done. In the book, she runs off with him and spends her life traveling in great comfort, accompanying her cannibal lover as he evades capture.
When I read the book, I couldn’t understand why Thomas Harris wrote this ending. Now, fourteen years later, I can see why she did it. What greater expression of love can there be than a man willingly inflicting great pain and disfigurement on himself to take care of the woman he loves?
So, do you agree? Can you see Hannibal Lecter as a romantic hero or will Mr D’Arcy forever hold your heart?