Regular readers of the advertisements on this page and their equivalents in other papers and magazines will have seen a number where the advertisers describe themselves - or their ideal soul-mates - in terms of a literary persona. We have surely all seen Elizabeth seeking Darcy (or vice versa), Cathy seeking Heathcliff, even Scarlett seeking Rhett.
The only reason we seldom see Juliet seeking Romeo is that by the time people have the maturity (or courage, desperation, and financial resources) to insert this kind of advertisement, they feel too old for these roles. I recently saw in a local paper a Romeo asking for a Juliet aged between 18 and 30 - which seems to imply a lack of familiarity with the ages of the characters in the play.
Advertisers can hardly be put off these roles because of the tragic end of their star-crossed love, for the same objection could be made of some of the others whose names are indeed used by advertisers.
There is, of course, a fashion in these things: the BBC was responsible for a wave of Dorotheas seeking Lladislaw early last year. Doubtless, somewhere, a Mary Graham has announced herself to be seeking a Martin Chuzzlewit, or vice versa.
Some months ago the Independent carried one of these advertisements for a character less well-known, yet the hero of my favourite books, which I read first at the age of 11 and have many times re-read. It was for Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy L Sayers' aristocratic detective, whose recreations, as described in his fictional Who's Who entry, were criminology, bibliophily, music and cricket. And it was placed by Harriet Vane, the woman he saved from a wrongful conviction for murder and whom, after a long and frustrating courtship extending through three books and five years, he finally married.
It read: "Aspiring Harriet wimsically seeking Peter for investigation ..." Even had it been from the far end of the country, I would have found such an advertisement irresistible, but as it was the aspiring Harriet lived in the next county, a short drive away.
I spent an enjoyable evening composing my letter, headed by a carefully drawn set of heraldic achievements and full of quotations from the novels.
Writing as her aspiring Lord Peter, I explained that I had solved many crimes at least within the pages of a book, was a keen cricketer although my best scores had been made in the back garden rather than at Lords or the Oval, and had a large library though it was not stocked with first editions.
"I'm told I make love rather nicely" was a quotation which seemed ideally appropriate - and there it was in the canon, just waiting to be used. (Strong Poison, specifically.)
"If anyone marries me," I felt justified in quoting, "it will be for the pleasure of hearing me talk piffle."
My Harriet received a number of other replies. Some of the respondents completely failed to recognise the allusion, and simply reacted to the information of her age, sex and location. Others, I suppose, took more trouble. My letter was, I understand (for naturally I never saw the others), easily the most erudite - and did in fact achieve its aim.
The joke was not yet over. Some weeks later the Independent Magazine carried a "Heroes and Villains" piece in which Julian Symons condemned the Wimsey books in vitriolic terms for lack of realism, and described their hero as "a creation of monstrous artifice and snobbery ... a ridiculous and pretty dislikeable character".
We could not let that pass unchallenged. A fortnight later the letters page carried a contribution signed by Peter and Harriet, describing how we had met and saying "we are very glad that at least two people find Lord Peter Wimsey witty, amusing and, with all his faults, lovable".
It would be nice to be able to record that we are looking forward to living happily ever after, as doubtless the original Peter and Harriet are doing in the Elysian fields of literature. (Indeed, the Dorothy L Sayers Society is planning to celebrate their Diamond wedding in Oxford, next October!)
But real life does not make for such a neat story as does the world of fiction. Alas, in the course of the summer the relationship came to its natural end, for reasons that were probably no one's fault, and certainly no more "Harriet" 's than mine.
The episode remains, however, a very pleasant memory, both the relationship itself and for the delight of using those much-loved books as a source of contact.
There is a postscript to this story. Some months later it seemed natural to place my own advertisement from an aspiring Peter, and to try to repeat the experience in reverse. The advertisement was not hard to compose, and was duly inserted.
Whether it was because of the relative popularity of the Wimsey books between men and women or perhaps for some other reason, I received only two responses, and in neither case did the writer live close enough to make a relationship convenient.
With one I spent an enjoyable day walking, but nothing further developed, leaving me to reflect that lightning notoriously does not strike twice in the same place.
But if there are any other aspiring Harriets out there ... well, they know what to do.Reuse content