We’re all a little bit in love with Mr. Darcy, right? Of course we are. But when we think of Mr. Darcy, we think of this:
Wrong, according to a new study that says the man Jane Austen was likely imagining was probably pale and pointy chinned with a small mouth and long, powdered hair.
Something like this:
That do it for you?
Yeah, no, me neither.
It gets worse:
The British upper classes preserve their status by interbreeding (Lady Catherine de Bourgh is insistent on the point). It led, in leading families, to pronounced features—the Hanoverian jaw, for instance (still evident in our monarch today). And, quite likely, an equine long nose. Darcy, it’s fair to say, may have one betokening ‘breeding’. The Duke of Wellington, with a nose long enough to hang a lamp on, was something of a pin up among the ladies. So too were Charles Grey the lover of the sexiest woman in London, Granville Leveson Gower a notorious heart-breaker, and the above mentioned John Parker, first Earl Morley. All of them had pale skin, long oval faces, long noses, small mouths and pointy chins. The square jawed hero is virtually unknown at this period.
We all know that the British upper crust was all over the idea of marrying cousins to cousins and then marrying their children off to other cousins, but for some reason we don’t think of that working out to people who weren’t particularly attractive, at least not by modern standards. I mean, does this get your motor running?
I’m sure he was a sweetheart.
Anyway, it’s not all bad news, at least not for folks who like their men with powerful thighs:
Naturally Darcy would be able to dance, ride, and fence. These were all activities which developed the thigh and calf muscles. A fine leg was an index of virility. Women looked out for a well-defined calf muscle, and strong thighs on horseback. Spindle shanks were a sign of ebbing manhood, likely impotence. French men were invariably caricatured as thin of leg & deficient of courage.
The Regency fashion of tight breeches and cut away coats guaranteed a man’s thighs and calves were exposed to the female gaze. (Cavalry officers were rumoured to shrink their breeches to their bodies in the bath, the better to reveal their quads). Buckskin clung to a man’s musculature like a second skin, leaving nothing to the imagination.
It was all about the legs. The six pack was unknown and square shouldered bulk was the mark of the navvy not the gentlemen. Chests were modest and shoulders sloping. Arm holes cut high and to the back rather pinioning the man within. The general effect was one of languid, graceful length not breadth. More ballet dancer than beef-cake.
(Bad luck for those who prefer a broad shoulder)
Ultimately, this is just a fun little thought exercise for those who love Jane Austen, something to make us all giggle and groan. But it also highlights a funny thing about beauty standards: they seem mostly tied to whatever is most difficult to achieve.
When Austen was writing, life was hard and the majority of men and women had to work hard and in poor conditions, rendering them tanned, scarred, wiry, and with little body fat. Being sallow with poor muscle tone was a sign of wealth and status. Today, it’s those who are wealthy who can afford the diet and gym memberships to look the way we’re told is “best”. Those on the bottom rungs of society, who eat more convenience foods and can’t go to the gym–well, they might’ve been hotties in another era.
Still, the next time I read Pride and Prejudice (and I will because it’s amazing), I’m still going to be imagining Darcy as less the little pixie in the illustration up there and more as, well, this: