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.