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Sardonic, sneering, wealthy, and wearing immaculate linen. Preferably ruffled.

Carol Dyhouse’s Heartthrobs, A History of Women and Desire, looking at the possibly changing faces of masculine desirability, as expressed in literature, film and pop culture is interesting, though I’m not certain it is really saying anything particularly new. She certainly backs up what she chooses to say by reference to much other material. Heartthrobs is 190 pages, plus a full 50 pages of cited references plus 7 of index.

Tracing the changing views of sexy, desirable men, from the earliest of novels (whether written by men, or particularly, women) we are shown that, whether in Richardson’s Pamela, the first novel, Austen’s novels, (especially Pride and Prejudice, with Darcy, the pinnacle of desirability) or Bronte’s, what set female hearts a flutter was a dominant, dominating, often ‘sardonic’ (a favourite adjective) on the verge of cruel, man, ultimately to be tamed, reformed in some way by the virtuous love of a good woman. Love tames the beast into marriage. And, rescuing him from being merely bestial, was of course, wealth. Easy to see why, in a time when a woman’s ability to make wealth for herself was lacking. So it is a little depressing to see how little has changed….she reminds the reader of a more than on the verge of cruel man in that runaway viral success, 50 Shades of Grey. What of course stopped the – I can’t bring myself to name him hero – of that, from merely being a thug, was – (sighs) wealth and fine linen denoting wealth, rather than grubby grease stained overalls.

Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky, throbbing

Others, in films, followed the trend, from Valentino to Rhett Butler. I found it interesting, and, depressing too, as explained with Valentino (The Sheik) though his Arabian mien is exotic, and in part gives his allure, it was necessary that the character turned out to have Caucasian ancestry – there was, surely, an inherent racism in this.

Later sections in the book look at sexual desire in early teens and pre-teens, and examines the pretty boy/boy band phenomenon – David Cassidy is particularly focused on – the allure for his young fans his unthreatening, androgynous, not quite developed sexuality. It’s the other end of the spectrum from the adult female’s object of desire who masters.

Unknown man wearing a fine linen shirt. Not many ruffles though.

There are some amusing anecdotes – I particularly enjoyed the revelation of the potency of Austen’s Darcy – perhaps not unconnected with Colin Firth’s wet shirt, but, of course, P+P was an enduring literary romance before THAT BBC adaptation – as evidenced by the following quote :

scientists working on pheromones in mice discovered a protein in the urine of the male mouse which was irresistible to females. They named it after Jane Austen’s character.’Darcin’. There are many ways in which Darcy has proved a money spinner

I received this from Amazon Vine UK, as a review copy. The text also has some great black and white illustrations showing the changing appearance of ‘throbs’ (and melting women) though these are done as text page pictures, rather than photos. There are some wonderful illustrations from ‘Romance Magazines/stories from early in the twentieth century, and pin-ups of the nineteenth century – portraits of Nelson and Wellington (!).

It is available as wood book and digital download in the UK, but Stateside, though available on Kindle does not get published in hard copy till next month

Heartthrobs Amazon UK
Heartthrobs Amazon USA

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