On Literary Crushes

This week’s post is pretty silly, and I apologize for it in advance, but it’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while. As a young teenager, when my contemporaries were salivating over pictures of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy torn from issues of Tiger Beat, I kept my fantasy love life to myself–and for very good reason. Of course, what’s not to like about either Bobby or David when you’re a fourteen-year-old girl in the 1970s? They held my passing interest: they were good for a few daydreams, certainly. But my real crush during my teenage years was someone I couldn’t tell anyone about: Charles Dickens.

Yes, I know. That’s incredibly weird. And, really, who would  find this guy hot?

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There’s something about that beard that’s distinctly off-putting, right? It looks like a box jellyfish mated with a piece of steel wool and the result crawled onto a man’s chin to die. But take a look at Dickens’s eyes. They seem vulnerable, staring at the camera in an honest and inquisitive gaze. At the same time, there’s something about them that denotes pain and weariness as well. It’s an interesting photograph of a man who peopled an entire world with his creations. In fact, you can see many of those creations in this famous picture that payed homage  to  Dickens’s  imagination:

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Source: Wikipedia, “Robert Buss”

This large painting–a water color entitled “Dickens’s Dream”–was painted by Robert William Buss and left unfinished at the time of the painter’s death. It now hangs in  the Charles Dickens Museum in London. It’s a fascinating portrait of the famous writer, daydreaming with all of his characters swarming around him in his study. This is the Dickens we all think of when we’re reading Bleak House and Dombey and Son.

However, this is not the Dickens I yearned after. My youthful crush was the young Dickens, the brilliant fellow who produced Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist. That young man looked something like this:

 

Pretty nice-looking guy, right? Huge eyes, a nicely formed mouth–and that hair! Here’s another nice picture of my teen crush, this one by Dickens’s friend, artist Daniel Maclise:

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Charles Dickens, by Daniel Maclise (died 1870). Source: National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 1172

For a number of reasons, I fell for this guy–hard enough to make me remember him when I was in graduate school and switch my focus from Comparative Literature (pardonez-moi, Mme Alcover; je suis desolée!) to English Literature, with an emphasis on Victorian novels.

And how do I feel these days about Charles Dickens, now that I’m not young any more? He’s no longer my hero; these days I realize he was by no means perfect, not as a husband, nor as a father, nor even as a novelist. But I love Dickens all the same. It’s true that he’s not the guy I thought he was. But then again, neither were David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman.

I’m wondering if this matter of literary crushes is as uncommon as I think it is, or if there are other people out there who may have had a similar experience. Please send in a comment, if so.

And now, I’ll end by pointing out that the actor and writer Harry Lloyd, who played Viserys Targaryen in the Game of Thrones television series, is actually the great-great-great grandson of Charles Dickens. Take a look below and see if you detect a resemblance to his famous ancestor.

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From imdb.com

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4 Comments

Filed under Criticism, Literature, Reading, The Arts

4 responses to “On Literary Crushes

  1. My youthful “crush” was not on a writer, but on a character that today leaves me gagging: Casaubon of “Middlemarch.”. Well, I don’t know if he was a crush per se, but I remember that I understood what Dorothea saw in him. I am appalled at my youthful tastes!

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  2. Thanks for your comment, DebraB! I can certainly see what you’re saying about Casaubon–I think Eliot meant to show the difference between respecting someone as an intellect and actually loving them. The real question is what did you think about Will Ladislaw when he appeared?

    As far as fictional characters, I was attracted by Bradley Headstone in “Our Mutual Friend.” I never could see why Lizzie Hexam rejected him so thoroughly. It’s been a while since I’ve reread the book, so maybe he would set me gagging now!

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  3. Sarah

    Great post! I couldn’t help laughing at your 14 year old self having a crush on Dickens of all people, as my go-to image of him is the old beardy version! That said i can see how he’s pretty handsome in those younger portraits. I had no idea that Harry Lloyd was related to Dickens – that’s completely blown me away!

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  4. cari6

    Suzanne, your calling came in the form of Dickens!?! Love that! I am afraid I was much older when I came into his circle. I did not fully appreciate him until near the end of my high school years and did not understand his message until later still.

    I had Russian thing going on from junior high on and has never left me. As you can imagine, there were few in high school that highly of Doctor Zhivago.

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