Studs and Duds: The Men of Austen
by Sophie Weeks, @torncashmere,
The mistress of the marriage plot, Jane Austen writes romance like no other. And keeping track of those numerous handsome, eligible bachelors can be rough! Here, in short form, is a guide to the men of Austen, from the mensch to the miscreant.
Pride and Prejudice:
Stud: Fitzwilliam Darcy. We all know this one deep inside our hearts, so I thought I'd get him out of the way first. Darcy is not only the model of a gentleman (when he's not misbehaving), but he is also extremely handy to have around when your little sister runs off with an unscrupulous rake.
Dud: George Wickham. I know some people enjoy “bad boys,” and I can too on occasion. But Wickham doesn't own up to his own misbehavior. Instead, he presents himself as an injured man to make the ladies fall for him, then squeezes them for any pleasure or financial advantage he can get. For this shameful behavior, Wickham is a dud...except in the eyes of his wife Lydia!
Stud: Henry Tilney. Henry is every bookish girl's dreamboy, equally at ease with high and lowbrow literature. He spins yarns for Catherine to excite and amuse her. Most importantly, he is a man who knows how to be friends with women: witness his affectionate behavior towards his sister for evidence. Though he comes saddled with a harsh and mean-spirited father, Henry is definitely soulmate material.
Sense and Sensibility:
Dud: Edward Ferrars. I know this is a controversial choice. Edward is, after all, the perfect match for the sensible Elinor. But his idiocy in ever becoming engaged to Lucy Steele, and still more in remaining engaged to her when he realizes what a horror she is, makes him a complete and utter dud. In the end, Elinor gains the “honor” of his hand—after Lucy has jilted him and he comes crawling to the woman he should have sought in the first place. Edward's crappy judgment makes him a bad catch, despite his honorable behavior in forsaking wealth for the woman to whom he has committed himself.
Stud: Colonel Brandon. Colonel Brandon is all stud, and not just because Alan Rickman played him in the film! With a “natural” (read bastard) child whom he supports (though it is by no means certain and definitely not explicitly suggested that the child is his), Colonel Brandon loves the fair Marianne for her sweetness and beauty rather than for some perceived advantage he might be able to gain from her. And though I find Austen far too harsh in this novel, delivering an ending that dampens poor Marianne's ardent soul, Colonel Brandon is certainly head and shoulders above...
Dud: John Willoughby. I know, I know. He's dashing and poetical, and the Romantic within me thrills to his “rescue” of Marianne when she sprains her ankle in a storm. But let me be very clear here: real men do not seduce and impregnate fifteen year olds. His late drunken repentance and confession of true love for Marianne is worth less than the fog of gin on his breath.
Note: Willoughby shares both name and temperament with a character from Fanny Burney's classic Evelina. If you love Austen and wonder what other writers share her keen observation and wit, treat yourself to Evelina—you won't be sorry.
Stud: George Knightley. While I don't think Mr. Knightley would be a very comfortable husband, fond as he is of scolding and shaming poor Emma, Knightley has a heart of gold, as demonstrated when he gallantly steps in to dance with the poor, snubbed Harriet Smith. He also is willing to live with the tiresome, invalid Mr. Woodhouse so that Emma will not have to leave her father in his old age. For that alone, Knightley deserves a medal.
Stud: Frank Churchill. Though he's something of a flirt, and a little bit shifty, Frank redeems himself by honoring his commitment to the poor and friendless Jane Fairfax.
Dud: Edmund Bertram. For her restraint in not stabbing Aunt Norris in the face with a pair of embroidery scissors (though I know many readers would cheer her on if she did), Fanny deserves a stud. Unfortunately, what she gets is the weak and vacillating Edmund. Though studying to join the clergy, Edmund is a milksop of a man with no internal moral compass, easily swayed by a pretty face and too stupid to recognize a real woman of worth until he's exhausted all other options.
Stud: Frederick Wentworth. Oh, Frederick. All moonings over Mr. Darcy aside, Frederick is probably the ideal romantic hero as constructed by Austen. His kindness, consideration and constancy all make him a man in a million. That uniform doesn't hurt either!
Best quote: “She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it, that she owed it to his perception of her fatigue, and his resolution to give her rest.” Swoon!
Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree with Sophie's choices!
(I certainly hope someone will back me up on the Frank-Churchill-what-were-you-thinking?! rant that's going on in my head...