The Literary Men of Jane Austen
February, the month of love and romance is not over, and Love still lingers in the air like a hint of delightful exotic perfume…
Ripe peaches and heady acacia, sweet honeysuckle, lily-of-the-valley, and the heavenly rose…
Yes, Love with a capital “L” — because this is how the great philosophical abstractions were written in the 18th century and earlier, giving moral, intellectual, and emotional emphasis to Love, Hope, Faith, the Charities, Fortitude, Pride, Ambition, and a myriad other concepts that in our modern era we hardly ever capitalize unless we want to wax nostalgic, or poke somewhat wicked, cynical fun at them (because, you know, we are just way too cool to be earnest).
In Cobweb Bride, my new major semi-historical epic fantasy novel coming in July 2013, I explore Love and all its complex permutations, with abandon.
In the absence of Death,
In the presence of Death,
Only one thing remains,
It is Love.
This is the preamble to the novel, and it gives a hint of what’s to come….
But, besides having an old-fashioned flavor of history, with a rich epic cast of characters (can you say, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones?), what exactly does it have to do with Jane Austen, you say?
Without giving away the several intertwined stories of the many lovers in Cobweb Bride, I can tell you this—it explores Love in all its plurality of ways.
In a world where death has ceased to be, a world suspended—what is there, but Love? It is a thing simultaneously altogether impossible, common-sense practical, satirical, earnest, gothic-romantic, and profound…
Oh and yes, just like Austen, Cobweb Bride has several interesting, romantic, and very intense men! (Wait till you read about Lord Beltain Chidair, the mysterious black knight who roams the forests near Death’s Keep, by order of his undead father, and hunts young maidens who attempt to pass!)
And talking about Love and the men of Austen, we come to the heart (pardon the pun) of the matter. I am going to talk about four distinct categories of Austen men here. So, let’s get to it.
Category One – Romantic Leads of Austen
First, let’s talk about the romantic leads.
Yes, yes, everyone and their mother and grandmother and spinster great aunt, loves Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. In this day and age he is the ultimate romantic lover—a proud, powerful, unreachable, strikingly handsome, imposing man with a gorgeous estate, wealth, and impeccable noble manners, who is brought to his proverbial knees—conquered by his overpowering attraction to the utterly original, one-of-a-kind, independent, smart, eccentric, and charismatic young girl, Elizabeth Bennet.
But what about the other delightful gentlemen that Jane Austen gives us to drool over, to dream about, and to long for in our most private moments?
First, there’s Mr. Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey. He’s smart, witty, contrary, eccentric, and altogether charming. He is not afraid of laughing and poking fun at all things and even the one person he loves, the innocent and naïve Catherine Morland. But when things come right down to it, he is also terribly brave—brave enough to break with his father and give up his inheritance, for fairness, and for the sake of the woman he loves.
Next, we have Captain Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion. He is a naval officer, a military man of strength, integrity, and a deeply passionate nature. He is also full of courage and masculinity, and he is capable of deep love that he holds on to through the years, despite all odds, and with hope everlasting. When Anne Elliot and he are at last reunited, it is like coming home to the safe harbor of his heart.
Then there’s Mr. Edmund Bertram, from Mansfield Park, the somewhat oblivious, but kind and gentle and very loving young clergyman, and a nobleman’s second son. He is the only one who is genuinely kind to the little poor cousin Fanny Price from the start. His unwavering kindness is eventually translated into love (with the minor hiccup of Mary Crawford in the interim), and in the end they are as happy as two equally kind and harmonious people could be.
Next, we have Mr. Knightley from Emma, another life-long friend, but this one more of a wise, and common sense variety. He sees all the personality faults of Emma Woodhouse and, through his steadfast love-friendship, helps her become a better person, indeed, the best person she could be. His personal nobility of character is powerfully demonstrated when he dances with poor snubbed Harriet Smith—even Mr. Darcy could take a lesson of true gentlemanly behavior from Mr. Knightley!
Then there is Mr. Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, the gentle very honorable and somewhat timid lover of Elinor Dashwood, possibly the most low-key one that Jane Austen wrote, but maybe that’s okay because the same novel also has the excellent Colonel Brandon…. Edward and Elinor end up quietly happy together, and it is almost a relief to see the happy ending to their sensible love.
And so, up next, the wonderful Colonel Brandon, who is possibly my own personal favorite (together with Mr. Knightley). He loves Marianne Dashwood despite herself, despite the fact that she is infatuated with the handsome and romantic bad boy Wilhougby. When she is at her childish worst, he shows himself at his best, lending a helping hand and shoulder to cry on, and Shakespeare to read.
Category Two – Bad Boys of Austen
And now, we come to the bad boys of Austen:
First, there’s Mr. Wickham from Pride and Prejudice, the devilishly handsome and carefree and charming bad boy we all love to hate. He almost steals Elizabeth Bennet’s heart, but not quite, because truth intervenes, and thus the lying seducer of innocent young girls is revealed to our heroine at least, if not to everyone else (but not before he seduces her silly youngest sister Lydia).
Next, we have Mr. Willoughby, the darkly romantic dream lover—one might almost say he sparkles in dreamy vampire fashion (and when you read my upcoming and hilarious parody Sense and Sanguine Sensibility in 2014, sparkle he will!). Poor Marianne Dashwood is infatuated and falls in gothic/emo love with the impossible perfect lover she thinks he is, a lover she has mostly conjured in her imagination. The real Willoughby is too weak and mediocre to give up a fortune for love. So much for that “dream” lover!
Then there is Mr. Henry Crawford, the brilliant, charming, romantically jaded, smart and exciting bad boy who almost makes it as a real heroic lead, but misses—to quote Agent Maxwell Smart, “missed it by this much!” His initial jaded fascination with Fanny Price almost turns into true love, but unfortunately he turns out to be just shallow enough at the last minute to prove himself unworthy of her steadfast character and love. Oh, Mr. Crawford, if only you had a little more strength of character, just enough to be redeemed!
Next, is Mr. Frank Churchill, the semi-bad boy who flirts mercilessly with Emma Woodhouse, basically using her to disguise his true love for Jane Fairfax. In that sense one might say he is not so much a bad boy as he is someone who demonstrates a careless disregard for the feelings of others and of possibly hurting other people.
Category Three – The Nerds of Austen
Finally we have what I like to call the nerds of Austen. Don’t laugh. Or rather, okay, go ahead, and giggle for all it’s worth!
The most famous one is of course Mr. Collins. He is the most ridiculous, pompous, self-assured and at the same time subservient and brown-nosing character. And he is not only comic relief but a fine bit of commentary on the state of matrimony in Austen’s time. Because, face it, a woman had far more chances of getting a proposal from Mr. Collins (and accepting it like poor Charlotte Lucas) than one from Mr. Darcy.
Then there’s Mr. Elton from Emma. He is also a clergyman, and also self-important and small-minded, thinking himself equal to proposing to Emma Woodhouse, and then mean and vengeful-minded when she refuses him, and disdainful of Harriet Smith. He is not as utterly ridiculous as Mr. Collins, but in a Regency nerd race, he comes a close second.
Next, there’s Mr. Rushworth, the poor cuckold fiancée and later husband of Maria Bertram, a man who has no concept of what is happening around him, and is definitely a pampered, coddled (and over-fed) mama’s boy. His preening attempt at acting in the Mansfield Park play was especially ridiculous, all things considered.
Finally, there’s John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey. He’s a pushy, obnoxious braggart, a bully, and a general knave, so I had to think twice whether to stick him in this category, or the Bad Boys one. However, although he might be a bad boy (or at least he thinks he is one), he is too much of a loser, so in the Regency Nerd camp he goes!
Category Four – Austen Men Created by Others
My own favorite Austenesque romantic lead that I’ve created is Lord Eastwind from Mansfield Park and Mummies. He is handsome, exotic, sexy, and enigmatic. And he is of course the Mummy himself, the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh whose romantic story is that of tragic ancient love and eternal longing.
When Lord Eastwind takes on human form in Regency England, he becomes an attractive stylish gentleman, and a true rival of both Henry Crawford and Edmund Bertram for the love of Fanny Price, who is his ancient long-lost love.
And now, what about your other favorite male characters that Austen Authors have written? The wonderful Doctor Darcy written by Sharon Lathan comes to mind. And there are plenty of others!
So, let’s hear your favorites!