What Would Mr. Darcy Really Look Like?

What Would Mr. Darcy Really Look Like?

Following up on my post from last month, Love Those Muscles, I’d like to bring to your attention an article I recently read in Town and Country Magazine online called, The Real Mr. Darcy Has Finally Been Revealed. In it, the author, basing his reasoning on a recently published academic essay, argues that, given the aesthetics of the Regency era, Mr. Darcy would have been more likely to be pointy-chinned, thin-lipped and slope-shouldered, with a prominent nose, as opposed to our modern-day imagined Mr. Darcys of the Firth, MacFadyen, and Olivier ilk. Those of us who write Pride and Prejudice variations like to describe him in ways that might conjure the image of one of those hunks, or similar. As I pointed out last month, we certainly want our Austen heroes to be muscular. So what’s this about slope shouldered?

According to the article, and, frankly, it’s pretty obvious from Regency paintings, the upper class male was often “refined-looking:” pale and delicate featured, which would have been considered signs of aristocracy, rather than squared-jawed, which might have been considered brutish. He would have had muscular legs, but broad shoulders would have been a sign of a laborer, not a refined gentleman. He also might have had powdered hair, unlike the thick, dark manes of our film Darcys. And so, here he is, Darcy revealed:

I can hear you all screaming right along with me, “Nooooo!!!!! That’s not my Darcy!” However, maybe that’s more how Jane Austen imagined him than we think. After all, we have to admit, ideals of beauty have changed a lot over time. Come to think of it, how likely was Darcy to have had straight teeth? Or Elizabeth for that matter? Two hundred years ago people didn’t have the dental care that we have, of course, and diseases sometimes wreaked havoc on their skin. Though ladies were careful to protect their complexions from the sun, other health factors could certainly have affected their beauty, and the same goes for men.

Back then, beauty was much more the result of luck than it is now. Nowadays, if you don’t like your nose, fix it! If you don’t like your eye color, get contacts! Change your hair color; get a perm or straighten it; get your eyebrows tattooed on; get a facial peal to improve a rough complexion, or maybe even a nip and a tuck as you get older. I think it’s safe to say, looking at images of Regency “beauties” or “hunks” that they were not necessarily the ultra-attractive people we like to imagine our favorite characters to be, and which film versions have cemented in our minds.

As a matter of fact, when looking for a Regency portrait for my cover of Darcy’s Awakening, the pickings were slim. There were a few other paintings of handsome men from that era, but none were very “Darcy-like.” The one I settled on, (next to the title of this post) was the most like I imagined Darcy than all the other portraits of men from that time that I have seen.

In the end, thank goodness for our imaginations: obviously what Jane was counting on when she so sparsely described her hero: “…but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien…” She leaves us to fill in the details. Could she have known that, as the years passed, ideals of physical beauty would change? She probably wasn’t thinking about it. Therefore, it’s been left to each generation to imagine their Darcy the way they wanted to. And I say, thank you, Jane, for that.

19 Responses to What Would Mr. Darcy Really Look Like?

  1. Interesting: but I’ll keep the image of Colin Firth in my mind and in my dreams as I sleep. Just another reason to be glad not to live in that era. Thank you anyway.

  2. Powdering hair was out of fashion by the time Jane Austen published her novels; and, the powder itself was taxed. Some men might wear their hair long but I doubt they would have powdered it (except those in the Royal Navy, who did keep the style). Only elderly men who might still wear wigs would have used powder. Other than that I do not have any problems with her imagining.

  3. Fun post – and interesting to think of what the “beautiful man” in Austen’s time would be. As mentioned, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Chemistry also plays a part in the attraction process.

  4. Proverbs 31:30 states that beauty is fleeting… just try to keep up and you will have an exhausting expensive time of it. Back in the day we starved ourselves in order to look like Twiggy [yeah, look it up]. The beauty pendulum is now in the opposite direction with songs glorifying the big booty craze. Soon it will swing back again and we will be looking for another model of perfection and beauty.

    Men have the same problem. You have many stages of male beauty, androgynous vs manly laborer, disheveled [unshaven stubble or full beard] vs well dressed [with or without the tie], or jeans [so low hung to almost be at the point of contact] no shirt, bare chested [no hair], every conceivable body type, hair and eye color and… tomorrow it will change.

    You mentioned noble mien. What is a noble mien and what defines it? Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. I was stunned to read that everything we consider as male beauty today, was disdained in Austen’s time. So we are looking at apples and oranges. Beauty cannot be defined as an absolute. It is absolutely undefinable. You have made many good points. Although the diagram is handsome… em… aah, attractive… I’ll stick with my image of Colin Firth [thank you very much] as my perfect Darcy. Excellent post.

  5. I prefer your Darcy Georgina. Regardless of square jaws or broad shoulders, Darcy was tall and brooding, no way a dandy. He looks like one of Sir Perc’s cohorts. 😉

  6. Georgiana, Thank you. I do like your choice of a picture of Darcy. The gray-haired gentleman would not make my heart throb. What we ladies consider handsome has changed drastically over time. My father was likened to Gregory Peck in his day. He was over six feet tall and weighing in at a whopping 137 lbs. For me, the first thing I look at is a man’s eyes, then his shoulders. No shoulders, no appeal. 🙂 A side note: As far as describing characters, I have taken writing courses with some very popular authors; they all recommend not describing the characters in detail as it deprives the reader of the fun of using their imaginations. Perhaps Jane knew that long before it became a little golden rule. 🙂

    • Yes, Barbara, for sure! I agree about the shoulders – it’s a deal breaker. Your dad sounds dreamy…it’s funny, my dad had the same build…tall and lanky. Oddly, I’ve most been in relationships with men who are not terribly tall. Okay, I confess, I guess I like them in all heights and varieties of handsomeness, but it’s the inside that counts for sure!

  7. Hi Georgina – I read that article, too. My reaction was that it’s understandable, but I’ll just pretend not to know what Darcy likely looked like 🙂 You can see the change in what’s attractive, though, in much shorter time frames, so it makes sense there would be one in two hundred years. If you go back and watch black and white movies, or, let’s be honest, movies from the seventies, eighties, nineties . . . You can definitely see shifts in what was attractive. I do think there are some people who will always be considered good looking, no matter the era. Like Grace Kelly or Cary Grant. Maybe Elizabeth and Darcy were the Grace Kelly and Cary Grant of their day. That’s what I think we should all run with 🙂

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