Reaching from the middle of the twentieth century, when little girls dreamed of Prince Charming and Disney’s “Cinderella” graced movie screens, Carol Dyhouse charts the transformation of women’s love lives against radical social changes such as the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the acceleration of technological advancement, and improved access to contraception, bringing us up to the 2013 release of “Frozen.”
Popular romance is often written to a formula. Our heroine falls for the attractions of the hero. Stuff gets in the way. They get through this and marry. We assume that they are happy thereafter. Most of the books published by Mills and Boon or Harlequin have some variation on this kind of narrative, centring on heartthrobs and happy endings.
Some of the most startling expressions of misogyny over the last century have been directed at girls and young women enjoying themselves. By the 1900s women were reading novels in large quantities. Heavy, three-volume works of fiction were disappearing in favour of single volumes in light bindings: paper covers were beginning to sport colourful, inviting designs.
From dreams of Prince Charming or dashing doctors in white coats, to the lure of dark strangers and vampire lovers; from rock stars and rebels to soulmates, dependable family types or simply good companions, female fantasies about men tell us as much about the history of women as about masculine icons. The timeline below highlights ten heartthrobs, fictional and real, that set hearts aflutter over the decades.