Our friends at HuffPost recently put together a fascinating list of the literary characters their readers find sexiest. What we found most interesting weren’t the obvious picks — Mr. Darcy, Casanova — but the number of odd choices. James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus? We’re pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be terribly attractive. And Victor Mancini from Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke? Really? We puzzled over the piece for a while before concluding that lust works in mysterious ways. “The heart wants what it wants” is a cliché for a reason. So, in that spirit, we’ve created a necessarily subjective list of unlikely literary crushes. From stalwart, seemingly asexual supporting characters to all-out weirdos to evil incarnate, ten book characters we find improbably sexy are after the jump. Confess yours in the comments.
Tilda Swinton as Orlando
Orlando from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography
We emphatically co-sign HuffPost’s inclusion of Orlando on their list. Along with mythological prophet Tiresias, this Elizabethan gentleman who lives for hundreds of years and eventually wakes up transformed into a woman is among literature’s most famous transsexuals. Orlando is sexy — and gets a lot of action — as both a guy and a lady, appealing to our well-developed appreciation for androgyny. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Tilda Swinton played the character in Sally Potter’s excellent film version.
Robert Duvall as Boo Radley
Arthur “Boo” Radley from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
We know what you’re thinking: The trembling recluse who’s so socially awkward he has to leave Scout and Jem presents in the hollowed-out knothole of a tree? The character who’s always described as so pale and sickly he almost looks like a ghost? But what can we say? He wins us over when he saves Scout and Jem, and he gets extra points for his silent dignity. With a little love, Boo could make someone a great dad.
Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Neither of this novel’s romantic leads is depicted as conventionally attractive. But (perhaps because of the book’s largely female readership) we tend to hear a lot of people confessing that they find moody Rochester sexy. Well, why not Jane, too? Although she famously describes herself as “poor, obscure, plain, and little,” we think she’s got a lot to offer — for one thing, she’s an excellent conversationalist. And there are few things more attractive than her no-bullshit attitude.
Douglas Henshall as Levin
Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
So, Vronsky is the obvious heartthrob in Anna Karenina. But he’s too much of a pretty-boy preener for our taste. We’d opt, instead, for Levin, the virtuous man who lives to run his farm and love his wife. His quiet strength and unwavering goodness make him an anomaly in his aristocratic milieu, and we can’t help but find that rebelliousness attractive. We’ve also always imagined him having a certain brand of rugged good looks.
Buck Mulligan from James Joyce’s Ulysses
Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom may be the central characters in James Joyce’s masterpiece, but it’s “stately, plump Buck Mulligan” who opens the book. We can see romantic types crushing on Portrait of the Artist-era Stephen, with his big ambitions and rebellious speeches. Us, we prefer Mulligan (who, let’s remember, is probably no less physically attractive than Dedalus), a witty medical student who is always jovial and quick to call out Stephen on his ample bullshit.
Glenn Close as the Marquise de Merteuil
Marquise de Merteuil from Dangerous Liaisons
Yes, she’s a horrible, manipulative bitch who’s also a couple of decades past her “prime” and revels in other people’s misery. Sure, she’s responsible for some unforgivable collateral damage. And yet, the power she has over the Vicomte de Valmont is sexy indeed.
Malcolm McDowell as Alex
Alex from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange
This one is pretty difficult to come to terms with — the character is, after all, a rapist, among other reprehensible things. Maybe it’s that we can no longer separate Burgess’s Alex from the smirking, unsettlingly charismatic Alex that Malcolm McDowell brought to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. It could just be the eternal mystique of outsiders who don’t give a fuck about society’s limitations. Or perhaps there’s something darker behind our attraction to Alex. We won’t examine it too deeply, but rest assured, it upsets us, too.
Kate Winslet as April Wheeler
April Wheeler from Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road
A bored Connecticut housewife and amateur actress, April Wheeler a beautiful woman who’s seen better days. Although she hatches a plan to move the family to Paris, her hopes of escaping suburban mediocrity are dashed when she learns she’s pregnant with a third child. April’s story ends in tragedy — but the force of her single-minded will gives her a certain dark potency.
Alan Arkin as John Singer
John Singer from Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
The de facto hero of Carson McCullers’ classic debut novel about Depression-era life in the small-town South is a man who can neither hear nor speak. Because he can’t communicate — but always seems happy to have companionship — the town’s freaks and weirdos project all their obsessions and ideologies onto him, taking whatever they need out of a relationship they don’t quite realize is largely one-sided. Singer becomes a somewhat messianic figure; even though, as readers, we realize that he’s nothing more than a good, lonely man, his apparent serenity is magnetic.
Gustave Doré’s depiction of Milton’s Satan
Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost
He might not be much to look at, and you can be assured he only wants one thing (no, not that — your soul). So why is Milton’s version of the embodiment of pure evil so attractive? It’s his silver tongue, of course. When he persuades Eve to take that fateful bite of the apple, their encounter isn’t a battle so much as a seduction.