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.