After our definitive ranking of the heroines, it’s time to look at Jane Austen’s heroes. They’re a far trickier bunch, since Austen approached her narratives from the female point of view and we see the men through their perspective. Not only that, but they’re given less character development too. This isn’t a big problem, but it has led to the heroes being frequently defined instead by their portrayals in screen adaptations, which offer far more opportunities for a detailed take. This list isn’t exempt from that, but it’s made an effort to focus on the versions from the original texts as far as possible. So, without further ado, here’s our ranking of the Austen heroes…
- Mr Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
It’s an obvious choice, picking Austen’s best known romantic hero as number one. Part of this may be down to the fact that Fitzwilliam Darcy is probably the most developed of her male heroes, but he’s also the perfect choice for Elizabeth Bennet. He’s the foil to her confidence with his severe social awkwardness, but unlike her wit which is used as a guard, he masks his light-heartedness in a different form of self-preservation. He’s not perfect by any means, but when you see the type of people he grew up with (hello Catherine De Bourgh), his occasional prejudices against others do make sense. But what makes Darcy truly wonderful is that he cares for his friends, recognises his own issues and will attempt to learn from them for the woman he loves. What a dreamboat.
Defining Feature: Social anxiety at parties and an uncanny ability to be awkward in most scenarios.
Best Quote: “You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.”
Lesson Learned: If you have any influence over others, use it wisely. Also, don’t insult the mother of your heart’s desire.
2. Mr Knightley, Emma
George Knightley is a smart and caring hero, capable of making light-hearted comments or of recognising the presence of injustice. He’s also very perceptive, noticing the potential connection between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax long before anyone else does. Although he is Emma’s only critic, it comes from a place of genuine concern for how she’s seen by others and he’s intensely proud when she works on her own faults. Even better, he’s a pretty great boss, supporting wholeheartedly the dreams of farmer Robert Martin with the manners of a friend. There’s a fairly big age gap between Emma and Knightley, but with his good manners, her kind heart and a mutual willingness to compromise, it’s undoubtable that they would have lived happily together.
Defining Feature: Perceptive judgement of other peoples’ thoughts and feelings.
Best Quote: “I cannot make speeches, Emma . . . If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”
Lesson Learned: Those you love will make mistakes but it’s important to support as well as guide them.
3. Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility
Now I’ll admit some slight prejudice in this one – Brandon may be ranked higher because of Alan Rickman’s heart-breaking performance in the 1994 adaptation. In the book, the character actually doesn’t appear too much. From what we do see, he’s no glamorous hero and there’s quite a considerable age gap between himself and Marianne Dashwood. In fact, it’s led quite a lot to question whether they would’ve really found a happy ending – was Marianne simply clinging to him as she got over the charming scoundrel Wickham? However, Colonel Brandon is undoubtedly generous, willing to help Edward Ferrrars in his predicament because he can’t bear to see someone suffer the same broken-hearted fate that he himself experienced. He also has a lot of faith in people, not telling the story about Willoughby’s past until he’d proved his villainy because he hoped Willoughby would make Marianne happy. His selflessness is a huge reason why he ranks here.
Defining Feature: An unromantic exterior that masks a battered heart filled with passion.
Best Quote: “Such,” said Colonel Brandon, after a pause, “has been the unhappy resemblance between the fate of mother and daughter! and so imperfectly have I discharged my trust!”
Lesson Learned: No matter how the world has treated you in the past, someone will recognise you for your kindness and generosity.
4. Captain Wentworth, Persuasion
Captain Wentworth is the one that (almost) got away. His poverty had led to Anne Elliot’s relatives convincing her to break off their connection but as he returns with a new fortune and status, he is faced with the woman that stole his heart all those years ago, and he’s not happy about it. Definitely angry and bitter, he compliments and courts other women in front of a stricken Anne. However, his pain is real and it fades as he’s is drawn to the same kind person he loved. When he overhears Anne talking about the steadfast nature of a woman’s feelings, he realises that she never recovered too, and what follows is the writing of one of the most romantic letters in all of literature.
Defining Feature: A broken heart that’s never mended.
Best Quote: “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.”
Lesson Learned: Sometimes you can give a great love a second chance — (not always – this doesn’t necessarily apply to terrible ex-boyfriends!)
5. Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey
Henry Tilney is rather adorable, although far sharper than the novel’s heroine Catherine Morland. He’s fairly sarcastic and intelligent, and is willing to stand up to his family to protect Catherine. He’s also been through quite a tough upbringing and has emerged kind and caring despite it all. However, he’s quite tough on Catherine at times, who remains naive and young. In the end, it’s her that has to change whilst Tilney remains his opinionated self. Despite that, he’s a great hero – in this case he was mostly just bested by better ones!
Defining Feature: A confident disposition and a certainty in his own opinions.
Best Quote: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Lesson Learned: If your dad has no good reason to be mean and grumpy to your crush, stand up to him.
6. Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park
Sorry Edmund, but you came in last on the list. Despite the love that Fanny Price has for him, he remains highly judgemental of the morals of others without sense in his own choices. He falls for the shallow Mary Crawford and ditches her when she won’t change herself for his own lifestyle. What’s most frustrating is that he sees himself as such a good judge of character but doesn’t see the wickedness of the Crawford siblings until Fanny has been through a lot of torment and heartbreak. When he finally realises that Fanny is in love with him, you can’t help but worry that his proven flakiness could affect her fragile heart in the long run. There have been highly sympathetic portrayals in adaptations (Johnny Lee Miller in particular) but it doesn’t make up for novel Edmund, who changes very little through the course of the plot.
Defining Feature: An insistence of moral behaviour, paired with a weakness for wicked ladies.
Best Quote: “A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.”
Lesson Learned: Sometimes exactly what you were looking for was right in front of your nose the whole time.
Do you agree with the choices? Submit your own list in the comments below!