In my last blog post I listed some of the traits that were essential for a regency era gentleman to possess, and then I asked readers to identify which of Jane Austen’s male characters best fulfilled these traits. Some of your answers really surprised me! In this blog post I would like to share my own list of Jane’s “most gentlemanly” gents, tell you my top pick, and then hear what you think of my choice!
First, let’s talk about male characters who definitely aren’t good at this whole gentleman thing. I’m not including outright villains, like Wickham. These are men who should be ideal gentlemen but fall flat on their faces. My first entry in this category would have to be Sir Walter in Persuasion, Anne Elliott’s father. (Hey, I didn’t say I’d only pick romantic leads!)
Sir Walter’s not a bad guy, but he’s not a great one either. His dignity is all in his own mind. He’s way too concerned with status and he shows it by dwelling on the Baronetage. (How gauche! A real gentleman would never obsess over his social status. 🙂 ) Sir Walter handles his money poorly and he blatantly fawns on his noble cousins, the Dalrymples. And let’s not even mention how he treats Anne herself. He’s no villain, but he’s certainly not much of a gentleman either.
Charles Bingley, sadly, is also in this category. (Sorry to disappoint all of you on Team Bingley!) He’s good at conversation and he certainly makes other people feel comfortable around him. But he violates one of the major tenets of being a gentleman- he does not protect Jane’s reputation. When he leaves her behind in Meryton he exposes her to the comments and derision of others. He relies too much on the opinion of other people instead of being his own man, and as a result he hurts the woman he loves. And do we ever receive assurance that he has learned his lesson and will not let others sway him this way again? No. In fact I have a sneaking suspicion that he proposes to Jane at the end of P&P simply because Darcy tells him to do it! So we can cross Bingley off our list of ideal gentlemen.
Then there’s Edmund Bertram of Mansfield Park. Again, he’s not bad but he’s not particularly good either. He sorta kinda objects to the play his siblings and friends decide to stage, but in the end he goes along with it. I can’t think of anything he does that makes him especially noble. His one redeeming quality seems to be that he loves Fanny. But then again, so does Henry Crawford. 🙁
Can you guess our last entry in this category? It’s someone who hides his engagement to one lady and then flirts with another lady right in front of her! He tends to be sly and somewhat manipulative as well. In some ways he is almost a villain, but since Austen didn’t write him as a villain we’ll let him slide. Definitely not an ideal gentleman.
Our second category is men who aren’t perfect gentlemen, but at least they’re trying.
Edward Ferrars of Sense and Sensibility definitely fits into this group. After all, he is honorable enough to continue with an engagement that has been forced on him by duty and family. He conceals his engagement, which is bad, but the fact that he honors it at all is in his favor. He is also intelligent and educated, and if he weren’t so shy he would come close to being an ideal gentlemen.
Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey is also a contender in this category. He is well-read and highly educated and he enjoys teaching the naïve Catherine about the world. He is both patient and protective with her. Occasionally he has a laugh at her expense, but it is done out of affection and not cruelty.
Frederick Wentworth of Persuasion is a wonderful gentleman. He is sophisticated, highly intelligent, perceptive and gallant. He falls in love with Anne Elliot and remains faithful to her for eight years, even after she rejects him unfairly. His love is pure, and no female heart could ever resist the passionate power of the words he pours into his letter to Anne at the end of the book. The one thing he has going against him is that he is not, technically, a gentleman: he earns a living with his hands. But Anne does not reject him for that, and neither should we.
Finally, we have Fitzwilliam Darcy, everybody’s favorite heartthrob. He’s the reason most of us became Austen fans, right? But Darcy is not an ideal gentleman. First, he is rude and condescending to people he does not care to impress. He freely admits, almost proudly, that he has a difficult time conversing with strangers. He even insults the woman he loves while he proposes to her, which is such a bad move for a gentleman (or any man) that I. Can’t. Even. 🙁 BUT- he also recognizes the error of his ways and does his best to change. When it matters the most he goes to great trouble, expense and humiliation to show he has changed by saving a girl he barely knows from the ultimate disgrace. And he does it all for love. swoon
So Darcy may have been slow to the start, but in the end he comes through like a champion! (Be still, my beating heart!!!)
This last category is simple: men who totally nail it. Can you guess who they might be? I can only think of two!
George Knightley in Emma is practically the definition of a true gentleman. He manages his estate well. He is unfailingly kind and courteous to those around him, even those of a lower social status. His judgment and morals are excellent, and he is clearly an educated, well-rounded man. But mostly he belongs in this category because he loves Emma enough to be honest with her about her faults. He is willing to risk a break in his relationship with her rather than allow her to continue in her spoiled, immature ways. Surely a true gentleman would have a positive effect on those around him, and Knightley certain lives up to this ideal.
Finally we have someone who many consider the most gentlemanly gent of all of Austen’s men. When it comes to a man who truly inspires admiration, whose character admits no flaws and whose generosity to others is astounding, there is one who stands apart from all the rest: Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. The colonel is so noble that he 1)falls in love with his cousin Eliza and keeps loving her even after she marries his brother 2)rescues Eliza from debtor’s prison 3)raises Eliza’s illegitimate daughter as his own 4)fights a duel to protect that daughter from her seducer 5)falls in love with Marianne, who loves someone not worthy of her and 6)eventually wins Marianne over with his patient wooing.
Beat that list, Fitzwilliam Darcy!
But Colonel Brandon and George Knightley aside, Darcy is still my favorite man. The flaws he demonstrates and later corrects make him the most swoon-worthy of all the men on this list, in my humble opinion. Of course, I *may* be prejudiced. 🙂
Who would you pick? Of all of Austen’s men, which man do you think is the most gentlemanly gent? Tell me in the comments below!