Our Favorite Male Protagonists by Female Authors

Adelle Waldman's The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

We’ve all known that one guy—the guy who always seems to have a new, devoted woman (or perhaps the right term is girl) on his arm, despite his seemingly glaring flaws, despite the fact that everyone else around him seems to be settling down. Adelle Waldman tackles that guy’s side of the story in her debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Men have been speaking on behalf of women for centuries, in and out of literature, and Waldman’s choosing to flip the script made us want to look back at other female novelists who decided to speak through a male protagonist. Here are some of our favorites:

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. Tartt pointedly thanked Bret Easton Ellis in her smash debut novel about a group of classically minded, insanely well-dressed college students who may also sort of be murderers. The whole obscenely wealthy, stylish, tobacco-scented young person character has been done before (not just by Ellis), but Tartt made things extra interesting by presenting the tale from the point of view of Richard Papen, a self-conscious fellow who is more the type of guy who things happen to than who makes things happen. This may be why he gets himself into all kinds of trouble, including a few steamy makeout sessions with red-headed Francis (who, let’s be real, is the most fun of all the larger-than-life characters in this potboiler).

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. The Outsiders blew my mind when I first read it. Not only was S.E. Hinton a girl who wrote about boys (and bad boys at that), she was, like, a fetus when she wrote the book (technically, 15 when she began it and 18 when she finished). The book centers on Ponyboy, a member of the scrappy Greasers, who do battle with the snobby Socs. There’s something extra-tragic in reading the book from the point of view of these tough little baby-men, though that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tragedies within The Outsiders.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Mary Shelley blew a bunch of dudes out of the water (including Lord Byron, no less) after conjuring a bunch of dark, sad men with her entry into a writerly contest over who could come up with the scariest story. Shelley’s contribution is, of course, about the tortured Dr. Frankenstein and his poor monster, but thanks to the bolts and flat head that we think of when we hear the word “Frankenstein,” people often forget that the book is also told, in part, from the point of view of Captain Robert Walton, who repeats Frankenstein’s tale after meeting the doc. Fun fact: Shelley was only 18 when she started writing the book, which is currently being adapted for the bajillionth time, into I, Frankenstein, a movie due out in 2014.

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. Be honest, you’d have totally had a crush on Ayn Rand’s fiery architect Howard Roark if you’d known him in high school. He’s moody, he’s talented, he’s definitely not a sellout. Then, of course, if you did date him, as you’d get older you’d think, “Well, it’s nice that he has his principles and everything, but would it be the worst thing if he maybe kept his principles on the weekend and just sold out Monday through Friday? Because these mortgage payments are pretty steep.” That’s when Ayn Rand would mock you, saying “You could never be with Howard, because you don’t understand him. I created him: he’s mine.” Then she’d write a Tweet about all the “sheeple” out there and feel pretty good about herself.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. To be fair, Nick Dunne shares protagonist duties with his wife, Amy, but the book wouldn’t be the mindfreak it is if we only saw Amy’s side. Observing Nick’s point of view and how Amy portrays and affects him (I can’t give away much more than that) is a real roller coaster ride—to say nothing of the way his father’s disturbing views toward women start trickling down to his freaked-out son. How much did Gone Girl suck me in? So much that I began listening to the audiobook when I was eight months pregnant, had the baby, and then played the rest of it during my maternity leave (the baby learned a lot of fun new words his first few weeks on this planet).

Who’s your favorite female-penned literary man?

  • Robert

    HARRY POTTER!? Why is he not on the list?

  • Christopher Faille

    Darcy. ‘Nuff said.

  • Melissa

    Jamie Fraser from the Outlander novels, though an argument could be said saying that Claire is the main protagonist.

  • Mary Poundstone Miller

    John Thornton of “North and South” by Mrs. Gaskell. The mill owner who slowly wins the heart of Margaret Hale.

  • PJ Icasas

    Miles Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold

  • freespeechfan

    The author of Memoirs of a Geisha is a man, but you’d never know it.

  • Nicole McGregor

    My favorite character I’ve written would be a middle aged man.

  • Cherie Lamphear Stanitis

    Severus Snape

  • Annie Towne

    I don’t think Tartt succeeded very well with her male pov protagonist. He was, supposedly, a straight male of 20 from a suburban family who nonetheless recognized Chanel jackets and other fashion designer details, the perfumes of several women, the list goes on. He gave the impression of having read every issue of Vogue since he was a little boy. Of course, those characters of Tartt’s were mostly ridiculous. Several of the best first-person narratives by a woman of male characters are Daphne du Maurier’s: The House on the Strand, The Scapegoat, My Cousin Rachel. Also, Mary Renault and Mary Stewart did brilliantly.

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