What do Americans think about Mr. Darcy and other fictional love interests?

Oana DumitruContributor
December 01, 2023, 9:55 PM GMT+0

In a recent Washington Post article, Professor Rachel Feder’s book, The Darcy Myth, is described as a compelling critique of Jane Austen's iconic character, Mr. Darcy, from her novel Pride and Prejudice. The book discusses Mr. Darcy’s behavior throughout the novel and highlights the glorification of certain of his actions that could have troubling implications for women. What do Americans think about the fictional love interests they’ve been exposed to? In a recent poll, YouGov asked Americans for their opinion on love interests from several well-known books and movies.

Among the 24 characters included in the poll, Princess Leia from Star Wars and Jack from Titanic are viewed favorably by the largest shares of Americans (72% and 70%, respectively). The two included characters with the smallest shares of Americans saying they have a favorable opinion of them are the main couple from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff (27%) and Catherine Earnshaw (25%).

Opinions on the characters polled differed by gender, with some characters being favored by larger shares of women than men. Women are twice as likely as men to say they have a favorable opinion of Noah from The Notebook. Women are also more likely than men to have a favorable opinion of Mr. Darcy, Edward Cullen from Twilight, and Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey. Men are more likely than women to say they have a favorable opinion of Han Solo from Star Wars.

Some love interests are favored by a larger share of adults under 45 than of older Americans, including the couples from The Princess Bride, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey. By contrast, Americans 45 and older are more likely than younger adults to have a favorable opinion of the love interests from Gone with the Wind and Grease.

For stories that exist in both book and film or play form, in which form Americans have encountered the characters also influences their favorability ratings. While 88% of Americans who have read The Princess Bride say they have a favorable opinion of Westley and the same share view Buttercup favorably, less than 50% of the people who watched the movie say the same about each one. Allie and Noah from The Notebook, as well as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele from Fifty Shades of Grey, also are viewed favorably by a larger share of book readers than of movie watchers.

— Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: The poll was conducted among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens from November 13 - 19, 2023. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Pexels (Gabriel Bastelli)

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