In Search of the Perfect Man: Jane Austen’s Heroes

Those of us with an affinity for Jane Austen’s novels—the sly wit, the razor-sharp social commentary, the forgiving empire-waist dresses—also have a soft spot for Austen’s leading men. But while these half-dozen gentlemen all share a strong sense of honor and an affinity for bright, independent-minded women, they aren’t interchangeable. So which Austen hero is right for you?

jj-field-as-henry-tilneyHenry Tilney, Northanger Abbey
As dinner dates go, a man like Henry Tilney has plenty to recommend him: He’s smart, articulate, and very near handsome, with a wicked sense of humor. That’s due in no small part to his education and keen skills of perception. And while his intellect skews to the cerebral and sarcastic—occasionally at the expense of others, who may find him patronizing—at the end of the day he’s more interested in spending time with someone of integrity and sense than with a verbal sparring partner. An avid reader, he has little regard for those who don’t have pleasure in a good novel, a litmus test he uses frequently to separate out genuine interest from casual flirtations. He’s dedicated to his family, but his devotion stops short of allowing them to dictate important decisions about his life. A dramatic Gothic hero he is not, but that shortcoming will be forgiven by anyone who recognizes the good head on his shoulders and sterling heart in his chest. 

colin-firth-as-fdarcyFitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
You’re too sensible to end up with a bad boy, but you don’t shy away from a challenge…especially a wealthy, landed, not-at-all-unpleasant-to-look-at one like Darcy. He doesn’t make a great first impression: He’s proud, temperamental, and borderline antisocial, which makes it darn near impossible to tell if he’s tongue-tied and nervous—or just not that into you. Large parties or other busy social scenes aren’t his cup of tea; he doesn’t suffer fools, and he’s rather inept at small talk. And it takes a lot for him to admit that he’s wrong…but once he does, he’ll work diligently to improve his behavior and prevent making the same mistake twice. He’s not one for big public gestures, but he will go to hell and back for you without asking for credit in return. He’s not the type to quit his job and run off to Fiji at a moment’s notice, but he’s utterly dependable and won’t hesitate to sacrifice his own happiness for that of the people he loves. He’s hiding a kind and tender heart beneath that stony exterior, and his good opinion once earned will be yours forever.

johnny-lee-miller-as-edmund-bertramEdmund Bertram, Mansfield Park
In a perfect world, the man of your dreams will fall in love at his first sight of you and never entertain thoughts of another. But reality is not perfect, and neither are the Edmunds of the world. Rest assured he is a kind, good-hearted man, thoughtful of the needs of others and striving always to make those on the periphery feel important. He is sensible and dependable, with modest aspirations, and is content to work behind the scenes on behalf of others. He has a deeply ingrained moral fiber, passing up wealthier pursuits in favor of service-oriented work. But for all his goodness, he is not immune to the lure of shiny things, like glitzy women. He has the tendency to be dazzled by their charm and wit, especially if they choose to bestow their attention on him over someone he feels is more deserving. With time he’ll come to recognize such people don’t share his values; just make sure he’s learned this lesson before you set your cap at him. But rest assured that, once he’s yours, he’ll devote himself exclusively to you and be your biggest cheerleader.

jeremy-northam-as-george-knightleyGeorge Knightley, Emma
While others fantasize about brooding romantic ideals and nonstop passion, you long for a down-to-earth partner who knows everything about you—the good and the bad—and considers you faultless in spite of all your faults. Though a homebody at heart, he’s warm, friendly, and capable, comfortable in any social situation and adept at putting others at ease. A devoted friend and unfailingly good sport, he appreciates the quirks and eccentricities of others…but that doesn’t mean he’ll put up with bad behavior. You will hear nothing but truth from him, not because he needs to be right all the time, but because he wants the people he loves to be their very best. Usually he wields his wisdom and temper gently, so when he does get frustrated his anger and disappointment can feel overwhelming. He can be too amiable, coming off as indifferent when in fact the strength of his emotions renders him unable to talk about them. If you’re looking for a guy like Knightley, look close to home; you may have relegated him to the “friend zone” without realizing it!

hugh-grant-as-edward-ferrarsEdward Ferrars, Sense and Sensibility
Men with looks, money, and charm get a lot of attention, but there’s something to be said for the quiet, unassuming Edward Ferrarses of the world. A guy like him isn’t terribly exciting, but if you can overcome his shy, natural awkwardness you’ll discover an intelligent, gentle soul lacking in pretension and capable of shining in the right company. He is steadfast in his commitments, even at risk of causing pain for himself. It’s an admirable quality…as long as it doesn’t cross over into martyrdom. He may need more reassurance and confidence boosting than other men, and sometimes his all-around niceness can leave him incapable of extricating himself from bad situations. He’s not one for pretty speeches, but he makes his feelings known with small, everyday acts of kindness and love.

ciarin-hinds-as-captain-wentworthFrederick Wentworth, Persuasion
If you’ve had it up to here with manor-born blue bloods or guys who skate by on their father’s business connections, a self-made Wentworth is the man for you. An enthusiastic adventurer who’s not afraid to work hard and pay his dues, he takes pride in the fact that all he has he has earned—the money in his pocket, the respect of his employees and peers, and the reputation of his good character. He’s well-traveled and worldly, but no restless rover; age and maturity have given him appreciation for home and family. But with that staunch self-sufficiency comes pride—not in his newfound wealth, but in his determination to prove that he is entirely self-sufficient and always moving forward. His love is steadfast, even when he doesn’t want it to be; as a man of action, he will fight actively against anything or anyone who he perceives as holding him back. He is not an inconstant man, but he can be a resentful one. Earning his forgiveness requires serious work, but will be well worth your while. Though not immune to the charms of a fine lady, his preferences lie with rational creatures who don’t fear venturing out of the calm waters of a sheltered life. And he never, ever underestimates the power of a well-written letter.

 

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6 thoughts on “In Search of the Perfect Man: Jane Austen’s Heroes

  1. Pingback: “She Has Proved Immortal”: The 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s Death | Bas Bleu Bluestocking Salon

  2. Pingback: Literary Leading Men | Bas Bleu Bluestocking Salon

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