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Darcy beats Bond in dream dinner date poll

Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy has emerged as the most romantic figure in English literature in a poll of women readers.

The dashing landowner, hero of Pride and Prejudice and conqueror of Elizabeth Bennett, is the fictional character that most women would like to go with on a date of one sort or another.

In New York, firemen became the city’s sex symbols after the September 11 attacks. In literature, it is the men who apply body or brain to fighting crime whom women most want to have a candlelit dinner with.

The top 10 are: 1 Mr Darcy; 2 James Bond; 3 Superman; 4 Hercule Poirot; 5 Inspector Morse; 6 Heathcliff; 7 Sherlock Holmes; 8 Rhett Butler; 9 Prince Charming; 10 Sharpe.

The poll was carried out by Orange, the mobile phone company, ahead of this week’s announcement of the winner of the £30,000 Orange Prize For Fiction — for women novelists only. The survey interviewed 1,900 women.

Their choices of guests for an imaginary dinner party were much the same as their selections for a blind date. Mr Darcy came top again, though in came Miss Marple, Gandalf and Bridget Jones to replace Superman, Prince Charming and Sharpe.

The respondents were also asked to name their best-loved book written by a woman. Pride and Prejudice was the favourite among the over-40s, mirroring the results of the recent Orange poll of the best-loved 50 books by women.

However, women younger than 40 favoured Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.

The poll also inquired about reading habits and the least surprising finding was that women who were read to when they were children were more avid readers when they grew up.

Women who were read to devoured an average of four books a month when they became adults. Those who were not read to completed only 1.9 books a month.

It was found, however, that four out of five women were read to as children — 42 per cent by their mothers and eight per cent by fathers.

The research revealed that women read for approximately 30 minutes a day and 3.6 books per month, though this rose to 4.1 books a month in the over-60s age group. Catherine Cookson was the favourite author of the over-40s and Stephen King was the choice of the under-40s.

The research dispelled the myth that women read mainly fiction: 42 per cent of the sample read both fiction and non-fiction, although of those 58 per cent who did state a preference, more read fiction than non-fiction.

The most important factor influencing book buying was the information given on the cover. Recommendation from family members was the least important factor.

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