Pass the soap, it’s romance time

Tall, dark and handsome is out of date, according to some of  Britain’s best-known romantic writers. 58 romantic novelists were interviewed to find out what they thought made the perfect man and they believe that today’s romance reader wants someone who is loyal, honest, kind – and able to wield a bar of soap.

The Festival of Romance, a literary festival held dedicated to romantic fiction, interviewed the writers to find out what they considered to be the ideal qualities  for a a perfect romantic male lead. The writers have struck tall, dark and rich off the must-have list, with wealth and bedroom skills taking second place to being a man of good morals and good heart.

And, apparently, a bar of soap.

The perfect man, according to the survey, must be loyal (91%) and honest (89%). But that won’t do him much good if he’s not a fan of frequent showers; personal hygiene  came in in third place with 88% of respondents saying it was a must-have. Perhaps this explains the fascination with the scene where Mr Darcy jumps into the lake. Good hygiene is next to kindness (86%), a sense of humour (86%), and intelligence (85%), with being a man of principles (81%) rounding out the must-have list.

(For those of you wondering where being great in bed came in, it was considered desirable but not essential at 62%, along with good looks(60%). So hot stuff Casanovas need not apply.)

I’ve been amusing myself by imagining what would happen if you moved outside the romance genre and reverse the gender. You’ll have a hard-time finding books that bill themselves as straight-forward romance for men, but plenty of books that are seen as more “boy-ish”, particularly in sci-fi and fantasy*, lay the love plots on pretty thick. The noble quest that gets the girl is always a winner of a storyline and most epics are incomplete without a smidgen of sexual tension – think Aragorn and Arwen,  Captain Kirk and, well, everyone – even Arthur Dent and Fenchurch.

So if the men of romance have gone all squeaky clean and ultra moral, do this mean that the perfect woman (or hot alien type  if you are Captain Kirk) has been similarly scaled down? Are we swapping exotic love interests for the clone next door? Will there be less women on the cover in space suits of a bikini-ish persuasion or shall we just expect to see sci-fi going straight for the shower for some titillation? (Star Trek and that T’Pol decontamination scene, I’m looking at you.)

Or what about the ideal female romantic interest for readers of fantasy? If we’re less worried about stunning good looks, social status and monetary wealth, does this mean we can downscale from the traditional female love interest being a princess, high priestess or absurdly hot goddess? Do the ladies of fantasy still need to have great big tracts of land and a libidinous bent, or is a kind heart and good shower after a hard day orc-slaying deemed sufficient?

If you’ve got opinions, the Festival of Romance has opened the polls to ask readers what they think makes the perfect man. The poll closes at midnight on 19th September 2011 and the results will be posted up shortly after.


* Just a quick note, I’m not saying that girls don’t read sci-fi/fantasy but that I have noticed that sci-fi/fantasy are often assumed to be of interest predominately to men. I enjoy reading many fantasy and sci-fi novels as do lots of women I know. I know men who love reading romances. If you’re reading outside the traditional reading list divides, more power to you. There’s plenty of great books out there in all shapes and genres.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.