Gabriel, Heathcliff and I

I was seventeen when I first encountered Gabriel Oak in the pages of Hardy’s novel. And I was about the same age when I met Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights. Mr Darcy didn’t quite do it for me then, and still doesn’t. I guess I require my fictional heroes to be something more than wealthy, arrogant gits. Meeting Farmer Oak, as he watches Bathsheba Everdene in her carriage (‘woman’s prescriptive infirmity had stalked into the sunlight’) made me fall in love with a literary character for the first time. This, despite his pronouncement of Bathsheba as vain, was, for me, the beginning of several lifelong affairs with fictional men. No wonder I didn’t have any boyfriends growing up.

For those who haven’t read Hardy’s fabulous novel, there is an abridged version in the new movie with Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel. The movie cannot and does not convey the complexity of the main characters and their motivations but it does provide a visually appealing Gabriel on whom I was happy to feast my eyes while ignoring the occasional sloppiness of the script.

Gabriel Oak was my first love, followed closely by the rather deranged Heathcliff. I hope I’m not alone in fancying brooding Englishmen from another century, but who would not care about Heathcliff’s torment and subsequent decline into love-madness? Yes, I know he’s disturbing and has a tendency to roam the moors at dusk and scare the innocent, but he does have compelling reasons, does he not?

I have a character (coincidentally) named Gabriel in my recently completed novel, The Historian’s Daughter. While my novel is not set in 19th century pastoral England, and I was not consciously thinking of Hardy’s Gabriel, it occurs to me now that there are similarities between the two. They are both solid dependable types, like working with their hands and have a habit of telling the truth as they see it. ‘There is a way some men have, rural and urban alike, for which the mind is more responsible than flesh or sinew; it is a way of curtailing their dimensions by their manner of showing them.’ Exactly. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

I think Hardy’s Gabriel would recognise the modern Gabriel and understand his motivations while offering him advice on how to be around headstrong, independent women. I think I can see them both looking ‘meditatively upon the horizon of circumstances, without any special regards to {their} own standpoint in the midst.’

Fast forward a hundred years or so and two other fictional men have impacted on my romantic literary landscape. Randolph Ash, poet extraordinaire, possessed me so completely I wandered around for days, numb with loss, convinced no other character could come close. That was until I met Magnus Tulloch in Elemental and fell, heartbreakingly, in love again. I see a pattern; complex, doomed men are appealing – in stories – of course. No wonder my husband spends so much time in his shed building evil villains from science fiction.


13 responses to “Gabriel, Heathcliff and I

  1. Great post, Rashida. I have to ask, does your hubby mind sharing you with all these Leading Men? 🙂 And do you mind sharing him with a horde of Daleks?
    Funnily enough, I re-read Pride & Prejudice recently. Mr Darcy’s hardly swoon-material for me, but isn’t he rather better than “a wealthy, arrogant, git?” Or, doesn’t he improve, at least? Lizzy’s a tad arrogant herself, when it comes down to it…
    I don’t remember the exact details (feel free to correct me, readers!), but my vague recollection was that Randolph Ash was rather cowardly in his behaviour to his mistress. But I can recognise the appeal, for sure…


    • Ah Glen, my husband and I are used to each others ‘strange’ ways! And Randolph Ash was a poet, and I swooned over his words and kind of excused his behaviour, and I maintain that Darcy is entirely unworthy of the attention he continues to receive but the Brontes were always more my style than Austen ever was!


  2. I’m very honoured that Magnus Tulloch has joined such a swoon-worthy cast of leading men, Rashida. Meggie endorses your excellent taste!

    Here’s a favourite of mine from long ago:

    He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch
    of lace at his chin,
    A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown
    They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up
    to the thigh
    And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, 10
    His pistol butts a-twinkle,
    His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

    A bit cheesy, yes? But I still like that Highwayman… 🙂


    • oh, I think I may need to do part two and include such worthies as your highwayman … he sounds gorgeous and I’d forgotten about him! Thank you, Amanda. I’m glad to share something/someone with Meggie 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rashida, I meant to comment on the day of reading (I woke up to this beautiful story), but life has been busy over here. Your love for those characters is palpable! And the story is so juicy – loved it!!! More please 🙂


    • Thank you Gulara 🙂 I think I’ll be democratic and do another post about my literary heroines next time 🙂 Appreciate your comments xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great, look forward to it. Somehow, these have a lot of energy! Your passion shines through. xx


      • This did make me smile Rashida. I launched many teenage searches for Heathcliffe – perhaps he was lurking in the poetry aisle of the local library, skulking in the shadowy trees at the back of the school oval, maybe that was him I glimpsed descending the escalators at Carousel Shopping Centre. When I finally faced the fact that the south-east corridor did not have moors, it occurred to me to become Heathcliffe myself. So, I very much look forward to part two: The Heroines. xx


      • Well, you see, I knew there was a reason for our connection and friendship, Lauren 🙂 I always wanted to grow up to become Heathcliffe too! And then I found you (in the south-east moors!)


  4. I’m glad someone else feels the same way about Heathcliffe as I do. I’ve always felt strange caring for him as I do—Freud would probably have a field day. I love a dark, brooding man with issues in my fiction! Poor Heathcliffe, he’s so misunderstood …


  5. Interesting insights, Rashida. Why is it intelligent women (in fiction?) often choose such underdeveloped men?
    Middlemarch, George Eliot:
    Will Ladislaw = 1 Rev Edward Casaubon = 0
    Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh:
    Charles Ryder = 1 Rex Mottram = 0
    … and so on and so forth.

    Ah, the vagaries of human choice.


    • True, Karen 🙂 The Rev Casaubon is right up there with Mr Collins in being repellant and distasteful and although it’s been many years since I read Brideshead, I do remember feeling a certain fondness for Charles Ryder … thank you for the reminder.

      Liked by 1 person

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