What do women want? Freud’s great conundrum, the unsolved riddle of a lifetime’s thought, continues to confound men and divide women. According to the Spice Girls, what we really really want is to zigazig ah, but for E L James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, all we want is a man who does the washing-up. In Heartthrobs, Carol Dyhouse, professor emeritus of history at Sussex University, ‘narrows the question down’, as she puts it, to ‘what women have found irresistibly attractive in men’, which is something else entirely. Knowing what you want on a philosophical level and knowing what you like in a chap are two different things.
Dyhouse’s interest is in mass, rather than individual, desire. Her subject is those men who have incited female hysteria, from the 19th century to the present day: Lord Byron, Richard Chamberlain, Cliff Richard, One Direction. We know how women appear to men, says Dyhouse, but how do men appear