He was an intrepid explorer, determined and adventurous. He was imposing and heroic as well as being kind and thoughtful. Whatever dangers he got into he would always guide his team to safety. A natural leader, he never failed to encourage his siblings and cousin, look out for Timmy, his dog. Without his courage and noble authority they never would have, say, unmasked dastardly smugglers or rescued his genius uncle from hostage situations. His name was Julian and he was one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. I was eight years old and smitten.
How I longed to join him on his adventures, sail victorious together to his family’s private island, charm his parents, win over the other four with my tenacious spirit and charisma. No one would miss Anne, she could stay at home baking cakes and I could be the feminine yet feisty member of the gang, the one who would put the last piece of the puzzle together to solve the mystery with grace and wit.
My beautiful romance with Julian, however, didn’t – couldn’t – last. I outgrew his hi-jinks and it wasn’t long before I discovered Peter Pevensie, that most magnetic of Narnian high-kings. He in turn was soon cruelly usurped by the successor to his own throne, Prince Caspian. After that, by way of an embarrassing dalliance with Adrian Mole, which was hastily forgotten about (a mutual love of self-penned prose brought us together, his lingering love for an ex tore us apart), my suitors came and went with swift ease. Damaging poor Heathcliff once again as I replaced him with Mr. Darcy, casting the heir to Pemberley aside once I discovered his twentieth century counterpart, Mark.
Teenage years brought the usual confusion and angst. None of the mere mortals in my circle could match these paragons of virtue and dignity. Kissing a few frogs in football jerseys was necessary, if not sometimes unpleasant, for practice in the search for my prince, lord, high-flying human-rights lawyer or similar, but in my heart I knew I would have to wait until I took flight from my small home town and travel the 25 miles to the nearest city. The English Department was the place I knew I would find a dark and complicated character with quiet confidence and a brilliant mind, as if etched from the pages of my favourite novels.
Not unlike Catherine Morland and her disappointment with life before Northanger Abbey, my initial lofty idea of University life was to be superseded with something quite a bit more ordinary. In place of Cathedral-like lecture theatres full of enlightened youths eager to learn, philosophise, exchange ideas and debate politics was a huge, artificially lit hall, built in the 70s, with the same football-shirt wearing oafs from my schooldays posturing and guffawing at each other, while gussied up girls chatted amongst themselves or on their phones. Although I was silently pleased that I wouldn’t be completely out-of-place in the midst of gigantic intellects I was at the same time let down by the lack of brooding males.
Hope stayed intact however, and one day in the second week of the semester my daily hall-scanning proved fruitful. Peering eagerly through my glasses, hand poised and ready to whip them off if I happened upon someone of interest, my eyes rested on a lone wolf, rakish with a mop of unruly hair and wearing a battered leather jacket, one leg resting on the seat in front of him, one arm writing what was bound to be magnificent poetry. A modern-day Rochester, young enough to come without the baggage! I pointed him out to my friend sitting to my left who agreed he had a certain air of intrigue and could be a possible candidate for heroic leading man. Class started, and numerous glances throughout the hour confirmed that he was interested; writing feverishly, clever; listening to the professor at important moments, not deprived of a sense of humour; laughing with the rest of the class when one of the aforementioned oafs was eloquently chastised for departing too early. Luckily my friend was taking notes.
My sense of fate was sealed a few days later when I went to my first seminar and there Rochester was, sitting nonchalantly listening to his mp3 player, tapping his foot to the rhythm. Tinny music escaped from his earphones. At this point I wasn’t surprised to hear it was my own favourite band. The situation couldn’t have been any more perfect if I’d written it myself.
Proceedings commenced and a lively debate began about the readings that had been assigned. Whilst enjoying immensely the banter with a surprisingly articulate burly and ruddy-faced rugby player I started to wonder when my Intended was going to join in. The fact is he didn’t. Not one word. In the space of forty-five minutes my prejudices had been lifted and my lifelong delusions dissipated. My Rochester was as much a construction of fiction as Bronte’s was. He huffed and puffed when asked to give an opinion and bolted out the door soon as the class was over. Conversation for a few of us continued through the corridors, over the green and into the pub. People filtered off one by one until all that remained was the rugby player and me. Reader, I didn’t marry him – but we’re still living happily ever after.
– Aoife B. Burke