The Perfect Man: Fatherhood, Masculinity and Romance in Popular Culture in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain

  • Laura King
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History Series book series (GSX)


In the 1958 novel Love This Enemy, the ‘hero’ Steve is described as ‘a mixture of passionate he-man and paternal overlord’.1 With this characterization, author Kathryn Blair, a pseudonym for Lilian Warren, Mills & Boon’s biggest-selling author in the 1950s,2 described the epitome of popular romantic heroes. Yet Steve also demonstrates his capacity for affection by taking care of an abandoned child. In doing so, he forces Kay, the ‘heroine’, to see his softer side: ‘The instincts are rooted there — protect the women and children.’3 Indeed, he also shows emotion when Kay is ill; on realizing her state, he makes a ‘small savage sound’ and ‘[h]is jaw went so taut that it twitched’. He tends to her gently, and barely leaves her until she has recovered, even though their love is certainly not clear by this point.4 This represents a large proportion of fictive heroes at this time. The ‘perfect man’ of mid-twentieth-century Britain could be a contradictory figure, combining traditionally ‘manly’ attributes and authority with a caring side. This chapter will consider examples from both the press and romance literature to analyse how men’s position as (potential) fathers figured within a normative masculinity deemed attractive to women. The affective relationships in romance novels during this period in Britain incorporated a hierarchy between men and women; in this genre at least, there was limited evidence of the equal, companionate marriage ideal which was promoted in other media, and found to be the ‘most distinctive feature of domestic life’ at this time.5


Interwar Period Sexual Revolution Historical Journal Male Authority Romance Literature 
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© Laura King 2015

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  • Laura King

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