We’ve all read books that we wished we could live in. Furthermore, we’ve all read books with characters we wished were real. While today’s fiction gives us characters like Noah from The Notebook, Edward from Twilight, and a host of other new literary hunks that have captured the hearts and imaginations of girls and women the world over, there are plenty of literary dreamboats who made hearts go pitter pat for years and years now. Here is a list of the top ten greatest literary hunks.
**note: many different things can make a character a “hunk.” Thinking back on “hunks” in films (ooh, I smell another list…), we loved John Bender’s angsty rebellious attitude as much as we loved George Bailey’s new found hope and love for life. Some things that make a guy a hunk – brains, angst, acceptance, courage, mystery, confidence, eloquence, and even disillusionment, arrogance, and irresponsibility. It all depends on the package that holds each trait.
Nobody’s paid too much attention to Queequeg, chief harpooner on the Pequod, famed whale ship in Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick (1851). Not only is Queegueg Melville’s indictment of racial discrimination and post-colonial white authority, he’s also kind of a hunk. Strapping, tall, strong, brave, and tattooed, Queequeg is a cannibal, sure, but he’s also not afraid to put his life on the line for a virtual stranger. He has tolerance for the ignorance of white men, and he has a good sense of humor and an unflappable attitude.
Hunk Attributes – Mysterious, confident
“I had noticed also that Queequeg never consorted at all, or but very little, with the other seamen in the inn. He made no advances whatever; appeared to have no desire to enlarge the circle of his acquaintances. All this struck me as mighty singular; yet, upon second thoughts, there was something almost sublime in it. Here was a man some twenty thousand miles from home, by the way of Cape Horn, that is–which was the only way he could get there–thrown among people as strange to him as though he were in the planet Jupiter; and yet he seemed entirely at his ease; preserving the utmost serenity; content with his own companionship; always equal to himself.”
28-year old Captain John Joseph Yossarian is the B-25 bombardier who is the central focus of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22 and its sequel, 1994’s Closing Time. He’s paranoid, sensitive, sort of slutty, and extremely complicated. What’s better than a brooding, paranoid protagonist, anyway? Yossarian is clever, which is a bonus in a crazy world where you can’t trust anything, and every decision you make could be your doom.
Hunk attribute: rebellious and disillusioned
“Dunbar sat up like a shot. “That’s it,” he cried excitedly. “There was something missing – and now I know what it is.” He banged his first down into his palm. “No patriotism,” he declared.
“You’re right,” Yossarian shouted back. “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right. The hot dog, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mom’s apple pie. That’s what everyone’s fighting for. But who’s fighting for the decent folk? Who’s fighting for more votes for the decent folk? There’s no patriotism, that’s what it is. And no matriotism, either.”
8. Tea Cake
Zora Neale Hurston’s beautiful and empowering, yet totally devastating novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) centers around an unapologetically sexy Janie Crawford, who gets out of two bad marriages and sets out to live her life on her own terms. Enter Tea Cake, a gambler and hottie who plays the guitar to woo Janie. He might not be perfect, but he was a looker for sure.
Hunk Attribute: beautiful, bad, and the younger man
“(Tea Cake) looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom – a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.”
7. Mr. Knightley
Protagonist male character of Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), George Knightley is a rich dude, devoted to his family, and has known Emma her whole life. He’s handsome, moral, kind, and he loves Emma to pieces. He bides his time, and only approaches Emma when he feels she’s ready to accept her love. Then, because she’s so worried about her Dad, he’s willing to move in with them instead of taking Emma to his estate. Classy.
Hunk Attribute: Kind, handsome, morally upright, the older man. Can call Emma out when she’s behaving badly.
“Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them.”
6. Howard Roark
Howard Roark is uncompromising in his sense of art, and as the protagonist of The Fountainhead (1943), he is far from perfect. Fun fact – Ayn Rand considered him the perfect man. He is selfish (not surprising for a Rand character), rangy, red-headed, and brilliant.
Hunk Attributes: See above. Brilliant. Uncompromising. Brutally selfish yet passionate.
“Man cannot survive except through his mind. He comes on this earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. Animals obtain food by force. Man has no claws, no fangs, no horns, no great strength of muscle. He must plant his food or hunt it. To plant, he needs a process of thought. To hunt, he needs weapons and to make weapons – a process of thought. From this simplest necessity to this highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man – the function of his reasoning mind.”
5. Atticus Finch
Atticus Finch is a brilliant lawyer, a humanitarian, and a single father in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). He’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, he practices what he preaches, and he’s a crack shot with a rifle. Manly, brave, sensitive, and smart all in one caring, wonderful package.
Hunk Attributes: caring, sensitive, brave, smart, good with kids
“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
4. Florentino Ariza
Thrown over by his love, Fermina, for an ambitious doctor named Juvenal Urbino, Florentino Ariza is a heartbreaking and decadently romantic character in Gabrial Garcia Marquez’s 1985 novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. The most modern book on this list, I feel justified including Florentino because the story itself takes place between 1880 and 1930. That’s a really long time for a love triangle to exist, and Florentino doesn’t exactly cool his heels waiting for Fermina to decide that she made a mistake in choosing Juvenal. He is morally questionable, to put it mildly, but his obsessive devotion to winning Fermina’s affections lures the reader into a sense of romance and tragic love, and the reader finds himself/herself rooting for the rake, nonetheless.
Hunk attributes: Slightly immoral (bad boy, old-school-style), madly in love, patient.
Corroborating quote: “Fermina,” he said, “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”
He’s bad, he’s supernatural, and he’s a bloodsucking fiend. Before the ambiguously moral Edward Cullen, before the tortured and beautiful Lestat, there was Dracula, the baddest and scariest vampire of them all. In Dracula (1897), he could appear as a bat, a wolf, or mist. He could appear old or young. He could hold you in his thrall. Literally speaking, he was a symbol of revolution at the end of the 19th century – Bram Stoker’s indictment of strict moral Victorian values that were blinded by fear and outdated rules, but the character himself is intriguing enough to have been depicted on film countless times.
Hunk attributes: Dark, mysterious, ancient, supernatural, that “thrall” thing
Corroborating quote: (in terms of what he does to women) “The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness.”
2. Mr. Darcy
Ah, Mr. Darcy. The wealthy, aloof, seemingly-rude hunk from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) is arguably one of the dreamiest male figures in English literature. He seems mean, but his regard for Elizabeth Bennet makes him undergo a self-assessment that ends up in him selflessly trying to fix the things Elizabeth is worried about at a cost to himself (namely, about a year’s income). A romantic hero’s romantic hero, Mr. Darcy is so iconic that scientists named a protein pheromone after him in 2010. Some hunkiness is timeless.
Hunk attributes: aloof and arrogant at first, but then turned into a good guy by his love for Elizabeth Bennet. Thus making all women everywhere think that men will change for them. Dangerous.
Corroborating quote: “You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. And wish from this day forth never to be parted from you.”
Because brooding and tortured beats out changed-by-love in the true hopeless romantic department, our number one literary hunk is Heathcliff, the bitter, villainous, complex, and lovesick main male character in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847). He’s a gypsy orphan who was raised by the Earnshaw family, and came to love their daughter, Catherine. Catherine love him too, but she marries someone more “appropriate” and the two of them (Cathy and Heathcliff) live their lives married to other people, while Heathcliff does some remarkably horrible things to get revenge on, well, everybody for not getting to be with Cathy. Talk about star-crossed loves.
Hunk attributes: ruthlessness, the ability to love in the most destructive way possible aka his all-consuming love for Cathy. Also, the ability to get really rich and athletic in a mysterious way.
Corroborating quote: (upon learning of Catherine’s death) “‘May she wake in torment!’ he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. ‘Why, she’s a liar to the end! Where is she? Not THERE – not in heaven – not perished – where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer – I repeat it till my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered DO haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts HAVE wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!'”