Amy Van De Casteele discusses Freud, fiction and fantasy, and explains just how the moody (but magnificent) Mr Rochester ruined her love life…
The world of romance is fraught with peril. Singletons trying to find a partner find themselves faced with strings of bad dates, as well as the soul-destroying prospect of being stood-up. Then, when you do end up in a relationship, there are all sorts of things that can go wrong – infidelity and rows over money or living space being foremost among them. When I think about all of the issues that can trouble the waters of a relationship I find myself coming to the gloomy conclusion that it’s a wonder any couples ever make it down the aisle at all.
Without going into too much detail, my own love life has been, well, rather rocky. Somehow I always seem to end up choosing the wrong men…very wrong in fact. Each of the 3 men I have embarked on major relationships with has turned out to be deeply flawed. Obviously I didn’t know about these flaws when I first began dating these men – to begin with they each came across as sweet, loving and adoring. Their failings emerged slowly over the course of the relationship and each time, because of those positive first impressions, their dark revelations came as something of a grim shock to me – a blow which sent me reeling, three times in a row. Lady Luck is not on my side when it comes to love.
The ironic thing is that, in my search for “The One”, I have very clearly defined parameters of what I want in a man. He should be honourable, kind, warm, loving, gentle, humorous and family-oriented. Looks are a bonus, though not the most important thing; neither is money, though I do like my partner to be financially stable – money (or the lack thereof) can cause almost as much strain to a relationship as cheating. Of course, there are other qualities I desire in a partner, and therein lies the problem. Because if I am perfectly honest… I want my partner to be a fictional man.
By this I mean – I am searching for the real-life version of the fictional men I admire so much. Men like Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, Legolas from The Lord of the Rings and Uncas from the 1992 film version of The Last of the Mohicans. These fictitious male characters have so influenced my view of “the ideal man” that I find myself seeking their flesh-and-blood counterparts… and, funnily enough, failing to find them. Because, obviously, those men aren’t real and non-fictional men can probably never quite live up to them.
In fact, my desire to reincarnate these fictional loves in blood and bones form is probably ruining my love life, because I am doomed to fail from the very start as, obviously, they just don’t exist. But, being fully aware of this, I still find myself engaged in the same ill-fated practice. Why is that?
Well, to answer that question, let’s look more closely at the “imaginary” men I lust after with such passion.
We will begin with Mr Rochester, Charlotte Brontë’s most famous male love interest. Some people might find my adoration of this character rather strange and somewhat Freudian, particularly as he is more than ten years my senior as of the time of this writing and was over twenty years my senior when I first read the book at the age of 14 and fell in love with him. But, having never been much interested in the obsessively sexual views of Mr Freud, I am not much bothered by any psycho-sexual aspersions you may care to cast. I love Mr Rochester not for his age – though his maturity and beautifully bitter cynicism is one of the draws – I love him for his intelligence, his wit, his passion and his tenderness.
Perhaps I also have a fondness for him because, like me, Mr Rochester hasn’t been very lucky in love when we first meet him in the book. In fact he is chained by marriage to a mad woman, Bertha, whom he has to keep imprisoned in the attic of his manor house for fear of her doing harm both to herself and to him. This sham marriage is a serious drain on Mr Rochester’s spirit and can’t help but give him a somewhat gloomy and embittered view of life, yet he retains a certain vivacity of spirit and a sharp, bright humour which makes him positively shine out from the pages of the novel.
Another merit of Mr Rochester’s is his complete and utter lack of stereotypical “love interest” glamour. Unlike so many male ‘lovers’ of literature and film he is not classically handsome, totally devoid of a cleft chin, dimples, six pack and shining white teeth. In fact, Charlotte Brontë tends to reiterate his lack of physical charm, describing him instead as ugly; possessed of “stern features and heavy brow”. Jane herself freely admits – to his face – that she does not find him handsome. But in my eyes that just makes his beauty and magnetism all the greater; because he wows, effortlessly, with his mind and the veracity of his emotions. Not for nothing was he voted Britain’s most romantic literary character, winning out over Rhett Butler and both Austen and Fielding’s Mr Darcy’s.
I never bother to hide the fact that, if I had been in Jane’s shoes, I would never have left Rochester’s side – mad wife and all. The moment she leaves him is one of the most heart-rending in literature full stop and always plunges me into a state of angst, silently railing at Jane: “How could you? How, Jane, how?”
And yet, for all this intense passion and devotion, I must admit that Mr Rochester was not my first fictional love. One came before him, a man who I first encountered in a movie at the tender age of 3 and was to fall completely in love with when I watched the aforementioned film again at the age of 12. This man’s name is Uncas and the movie in question was The Last of the Mohicans, directed by Michael Mann and starring Daniel Day Lewis and, more importantly, Inuit actor Eric Schweig as Uncas.
Oh, Uncas. He needs very little description except to say that he is breathtakingly beautiful and my ideal physical specimen of a man. But it’s not just his smooth coppery skin, long silken black hair and smouldering eyes that dazzle me so completely – it is his spiritual characteristics too; his bravery, his devotion, his passionate undying love. Because, you see, at the very end of the movie Uncas dies, sacrificing his life in a vain attempt to save the woman he loves, Alice, a young English woman who is taken captive by a wicked Huron warrior named Magua. Magua kills Uncas in a beautifully brutal scene at the film’s conclusion, acted out with subtle skill while some of the most sublime music I have ever heard plays in the background.
Uncas’s death scene never fails to bring me to tears, even though I have watched it countless times in my 24 years of life. The determination and quiet urgency in his eyes as he fights to try and save Alice is heart-breaking – and the callous, cold way in which Magua stabs and slashes him before finally slitting his throat and pushing him off the mountainside is devastating. The poignancy of the scene is completed when Alice in turn leaps to her death off the cliff, brought to suicide by her lover’s death and the prospect of spending her life in servitude to the evil Magua.
If I were her I probably would have done the same thing, though I might have tried to swing a few punches at Magua first. I would give anything for a man like Uncas. He is my ultimate fictional love, the ideal against which I set all flesh and blood men – which is probably why I never have any luck with love…because no living man could possibly have the beauty, courage and subtle profundity of Uncas. Of course, I would love to be proved wrong, but so far it hasn’t happened. So far I have found men who pretend to have that selfless devotion to me – but none of them, I know now, would fight a knife-wielding Huron war leader to save me if the opportunity ever arose. None of them would have died for me, no matter how many times they proclaimed they would.
Speaking of fighting and knife-wielding, the third and final man on my list of great fictional loves is also a great fighter and happens to have two long knives in his possession, though he is better known for his skill with a bow. He is Legolas from the iconic Lord of the Rings novels (and, more recently, the Peter Jackson films starring Orlando Bloom in the coveted elf prince role). Now anyone who knows me well is aware that I love Legolas with a mingling of pure admiration and slightly less pure… lust.
Like Uncas, Legolas is tall, strong, lean, long-haired and gorgeous, with razor-edged cheekbones to die for. He is also immortal, noble, wise, sad and merry by turns – and, in the latest Hobbit film, a delectably brooding presence. Legolas – also known by his many mortal female fans as “the Hot Elf” – is a stunning amalgamation of all the traits my “perfect man” would possess. He is courageous and loyal and can sing as well as he can shoot. He boasts that ethereal beauty of the Elves while at the same time being deliciously raw and virile in the way that he fights. If I ever happened to stumble upon Aladdin’s magic lamp I would rub it and wish that Legolas could be a real person (and mine, of course).
The sad truth is that, once again, no “real” man could ever compete with him. Not even Orlando Bloom can ever look as good as Legolas, and he is Legolas. And while I am sure there are at least a few men out there who can sing, use a bow and arrow and also be noble and kind (though probably not all at the same time) there are most likely none who could ever embody all of Legolas’s good qualities.
Are you beginning to see my problem? In my quest for Carrie Bradshaw’s fabled “great love” I am doomed to failure before I even really start. I am searching for mirages, for men that can only ever exist trapped between the pages of a novel or appearing as images of fleeting beauty on my television screen. Mr Rochester, Uncas, Legolas… unlike male protagonists like Mr Big, their ilk doesn’t exist in this imperfect world. They are too beautiful, too noble, too magnificent.
So where does that leave me? I guess I have two options. I can either come to terms with the fact that I will never find a man like my literary heroes and accept any future partners, “flaws and all”… or I can just give up on ‘real-life’ love now and content myself with my fictional idols, shutting myself off from the world of romance which has been, by turns, so sweet and so brutal to me in the past.
Neither option sounds amazing to me… but then, that’s just life for you isn’t it. Unlike literature and great films, real life is tawdry and ugly and difficult, (boring sometimes too), and you hardly ever get what you want. Even if you do get what you wish for, it’s hardly ever how you imagined it would be. But perhaps that’s what’s beautiful about life – and about men too. Maybe I should just learn to look at love as an adventure with ups and downs, bumpy bits and smooth places, and stop hunting for that “perfect man”. Maybe all of us should learn to look beyond people’s exteriors and find the pearls of beauty that lie within.
Sure, my next love might not be Uncas or Mr Rochester. But he might be pretty damn fantastic in his own right – and surely that’s all that matters. After all… we don’t live in a novel or a movie. This is real life, baby… flaws and all.