I love Christmas. I love winter in general, but there is something so special about the whole month of December (a lot of special people to me were born in December too, including Jane Austen!). One of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season, usually just after finals, is to re-read my favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice. It's obviously not very "Christmasey" in the traditional sense, but to me they go hand in hand. I started a little bit early this year, mostly to escape some studying-for-finals-headaches (which are the worst, are they not?!) and it makes me instantly happier.
TODAY is Jane's birthday! Happy birthday, my dearest friend. I believe I've posted about my love for Jane Austen once before, but to recap, I absolutely adore her and am pretty sure we'd be BFF's. One of my favorite things about her novels are the characters. The stories are great too, but her characters are superb! They're beautifully crafted, intricate, genuine, and so lovely, it's almost painful knowing that they don't really exist. But every time I read or watch (BBC or Masterpiece ONLY) one of Austen's stories, I can't help also feeling a bit...sad. I'm envious of their lives! I'm envious of the way the talk (people just don't talk like that anymore!) and their clothing and their insults, but mostly I'm envious of their men. And every time I'm left wondering the same question...Where are all the Austen men?
Daily, amongst the monotonous day-to-day thoughts and fanciful wonderings my mind can conjure, I dream what it would be like to go back to the time of Austen. Back to England in the late 1700’s and into the early 1800’s, into a time with petticoats and top hats, where horse drawn carriages can be heard strolling through the streets of Derbyshire. Back to a time where propriety and good breeding, along with her “accomplishments” were vital if a woman was to be considered for marriage. A time where the men were respectable, intelligent, and well mannered, and displayed only the most moral and correct decorum in front of a lady. Don't even get me started on their high-collared-necktie-scarf-thing.
I dream of walking around the grounds of Pemberley, running into Mr. Darcy on his way back with a shooting party, flanked of course, by Mr. Bingley, joyous in their successful trip. I imagine picnicking on Box Hill with Mr. Knightly, pleasantly engaging in a social debate that would soon turn into a lovely, but hearty, quarrel. Sometimes, I slip into a reverie where I encounter Captain Wentworth, back from his recent Sea expedition, and we walk by the Ocean and talk of the greatness of the Royal Navy and its officers. Or go for a long country walk with Mr. Tilney, take comfort under the shade of a large tree and read a book together for hours.
As great as these daydreams are, when awoken, it only saddens me to think of how different life is today, both in society and culture, as well as in men & women. Where are those great Austen men? I have never run into a Darcy or Wentworth or a Tilney. Do they even exist anymore?
Where is a Mr. Darcy? Sure, at first he is an arrogant and pompous character, who holds propriety and social class above all things most important in a female. That, of course, and her accomplishments. Darcy does have certain faults; he is prideful, sometimes to an extreme, he is quick to judge, and is unlikely to forget when people fault him, his “good opinion once lost, is lost forever.” But, being a man of noble birth and wealth, he is expected to retain a certain level of haughtiness in his character, which makes him overly conscious of his social class and in turn, prideful. However, he is capable of change, and learns humility in the rejection he faces after poorly proposing to Elizabeth. He is highly intelligent, well educated, and well breed. He enjoys arguments, banter, and quick wit. He has the ability to love wholly and unconditionally. He is socially awkward, I’d even venture to say, inept. He does not converse easily with people he does not know; his manners are always civil, but never cordial. He dotes upon his sister’s every whim, and has taken care of her in the wake of his parent’s death. He is charitable and moral, even going to lengths (and money) to save the Bennett family from total ruin at the mistake of their youngest daughter Lydia, even though still under the impression that his love for Elizabeth is not returned. Darcy is one of Austen’s most serious characters, but to me, one of the greatest. Yes, he has faults, but when needed to, he accepts the consequences for his actions and is determined to change. And one cannot argue the depth he is capable of loving, though in a quieter, more personal way. I would take the pride, gladly, considering all the other noble and moral traits he possesses. Show me a man with his intelligence, manners and perseverance in obtaining the woman he loves, even if that means casting off family obligation and social expectations. Darcy is Austen's most passionate man; nothing is ever done or felt half-way, and while that sometimes could be bad (if you're a deplorable human being like Mr. Whickham!), you can also be sure that he'll love you just as passionately. He is a very controlled man, so he's not one to lose his temper very often, and you'll always know that he'd fight for you, no matter what.
Where is a Captain Wentworth? Captain Frederick Wentworth is perhaps my favorite Austen Man. He is brave and independent, hard working and sensitive, while always displaying the highest quality of manners and good humor. Wentworth was not born from money and had no connections or fortune to his name. When the woman he loves rejects his proposal because she is persuaded to believe that he is not a good enough match for her, he joins the Navy and makes a name for himself as a highly revered and wealthy Captain. Ten years he works hard for his title and accomplishments, and returns to Anne Elliott a changed man. Though, he is hardened by her rejection with pride and shame, he cannot deny the depth of his love for her. Captain Wentworth is wise, forgiving, and despite not being from noble birth, has noble character. He is caring and compassionate, and his manners and ease at conversing with people tend to create many admirers. He holds steadfast to his duty and responsibility within the Navy. Wentworth always does what he believes is right, and values, above most, a woman who stands up for what she believes and how she feels, and has a sturdy resolve and strength of character that will keep her from being persuaded by others. He has a strong character and is hard worker. To me, Captain Wentworth is the most ideal sort of Austen-Man.
Oh, Mr. Knightly. Emma sure didn't deserve you, but isn't that part of what makes Knightly so great? He loves Emma despite her selfishness and her snobbery and of course her insincerity. Knightly is a "Gentleman farmer and magistrate", he's hard working, compassionate, honest, funny, quick-witted and absolutely loveable. He loves to banter with Emma but he's the only one that doesn't over-indulge her. He's not afraid to put her in her place when she's being cruel or inconsiderate. As her (and her families) friend for years and years, he values friendship in a companion and not just romance. He really is the boy next door. I wouldn't mind bumping into a 'Knightly', and out of all of Austen's men, he'd probably be the most likely you'd actually run into. Knightly is dependable. He will always be there no matter what. And while he's rather reserved, he's not afraid to express himself, though he struggles with vocalizing his deeper feelings . "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."
It's not that I'm expecting every guy out there to an "Asuten-man", because that's not realistic. And while this entire post might not seem realistic, it's not like I have a check list or anything. But I just wish for someone like these characters...is that too much to ask?
Maybe I really do belong in a different era...somewhere around the time of Darcy or Wentworth or John Thornton (shout out to by girl Elizabeth Gaskell! What what!) or Matthew Crawley (I think Jane would've LOVED Downton Abbey!) It just seems like no one has their lives together anymore and are completely disinterested in anything except the "bachelor life". I've been reading about Jane's life and am so saddened that while she wrote the most beautiful stories, she was never married herself or ever found her "happily ever after". But you know what, maybe she did, maybe her happy ending is her life's work. But one can't help but feel a little sorrow for her, that she never found her real life "Austen man". Obviously, she deserved it most of all.
So here's to my fellow Janeites out there, searching for your modern-day "Austen Man", rest assured that you're not the only one, Jane and I will meet you on the battlefield. (I'm not sure a Pat Benatar reference fits in here, but you know what I mean.) ;)
PS- Check this out if you haven't seen Masterpiece's Austen's Men
It's a simulated online dating website using all the men of Austen...and it's fabulous.
You can copy and paste in if the link above doesn't work: