When our teacher asked us, a class of adolescent girls, how many of us would like to marry Heathcliff, all the hands in the class shot up. I imagine if she'd asked us about Mr Rochester we would have done the same thing. This, I imagine, did not augur well for our futures, our lives as women and wives or our careers. Certainly, my own first marriage was to a stormy, handsome Russian who strode around on long legs and pulled at his hair, to confess of his love for other women to whom he had reluctantly succumbed, with much breast beating and agonizing, saying always that he really loved me. "I just have to go and say good-bye to X this weekend," he would say and rush off in his Porsche, scattering pebbles. Yet I remained at his side through many years of this, and I ask myself what was the source of my patience ( he took to calling me Saint Sheila!) or perhaps more honestly my desire for what we might call, today, these "blood-sucking men" .
For this desire, which is probably part of today's "Twilight" phenomenon, mild and accommodating though these vampires may be, seems to be an intrinsic part of our make up. What is the origin of our desire for these Byronic heroes, these "bad boys," these men that we know can only disturb our dreams at night and cause us nothing but grief in our days.
What drove all three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, whose lives I have recently explored in "Becoming Jane Eyre" to create very similar male characters, characters like Heathcliff who hangs poor Isabella's pet dog up on a tree, or Mr Rochester who storms around Thornfield, provoking Jane's jealousy and whom Jane calls "My master," or Huntingdon and his pack of dissolute friends. All three girls had read and admired Byron's work, including Don Juan; and they had watched their brother, Branwell, fall desperately in love with the mother of the boy he was tutoring at Thorp Green. He expected her to marry him when her husband died and when she didn't, turned to opium and drink, causing chaos in the poor parsonage, narrowly risking burning the place down as he lay unconscious in his bed. Charlotte, too, had fallen in love with her charismatic and temperamental professor in Belgium, her black swan as she called him.
But does this explain our fascination with the modern day phenomenon of vampires? Surely, much of this, the violence between the sexes, comes from our guilt, our female ( or male for that matter -- think of the great adulterous heroines like Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary) guilt at our sexual desires, our need to camouflage our desire for the other sex, causing them to become the ones who prey on us, the ones who drag us reluctantly to their beds; the ones who humiliate us and remain ultimately out of reach, adulterous or drugged and drunken, or simply resisting the urge to drink our blood.
We can only hope that with age comes the wisdom to renounce this sort of folly, to turn from these savage characters or like Charlotte Bronte, with Mr Rochester, to curb their violence, to control them, to turn the tables on them, to take the upper hand and enter into a real and useful partnership.