Bringing Jane Austen to the 21st Century
Kaitlin Saunders: A Modern Day Persuasion

“Next to being married, a girl likes being crossed in love a little now and again.”

Posted by Kaitlin Saunders in Blog on May 31, 2011

They make us cry, swoon, get up in arms, blush, smile, and adore…Jane Austen’s leading men are more than just gentlemen—they’re heroes.

My husband made a comment today which I felt rang very true when it comes to Austen’s ideal man. He’s real—he’s never perfect—he has flaws and he make mistakes. And that’s exactly what has made Jane’s leading men stand the test of time. Who wants to idolize a man who clearly couldn’t exist in our world?

Austen’s heroes rescue her female protagonists from their circumstances, in most cases poverty, and even themselves. Mr. Knightley saves Emma from her own folly.

Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth and the Bennet’s from ruination.

Captain Wentworth delivers Anne from her inconsequential life.  Henry Tilney comes to Catherine’s aid after she’s cast out by his father’s prejudice.  Edmund delivers Fanny from the everyday slights of Bertrams and eventually from his own oversight of heart.

And Colonel Brandon saves Marianne from her own demise while Edward softens Elinor’s heartbreak by turning up single and delivering her from a life of eventual spinsterhood.

Now I must ask: What must a leading man exhibit to qualify for such a calling as Austen’s hero?

  • He must be a person of noble and strong character
  • He must be handsome (or at least with features that become handsome with fondness)
  • He must be from a wealthy family (regardless if currently wealthy)
  • He must be honest
  • He must have dealt or be dealing with an internal struggle or conflict

Yes, every one of Austen’s heroes exhibit an internal struggle. Mr. Darcy didn’t want to love Eliza, but couldn’t help it. Not only that, but he did have some pride issues he had to work through!

Captain Wentworth, after his first proposal was rejected by Anne, was hesitant to love again but couldn’t resist her.  Edward struggled with his hidden and unhappy engagement to Lucy Steele.  Henry Tilney dealt with the inner conflict of pleasing his father and marrying a wealthy woman.

Colonel Brandon overcame not only the age-difference between himself and Marianne, but her love affair with Willoughby and the initial disapproval she held against second attachments.

And Edmund dealt with his internal struggle—a blind love for Mary.  Thank goodness he overcame it in the end to realize it was Fanny whom he truly loved!

It’s satisfying to know that even my husband can respect Jane’s heroes because they are relatable. He doesn’t have to worry about me swooning now and then over a man (a make-believe one, of course) who’s perfect and sets up this unrealistic standard for him to strive for and only fail. Jane wrote about real men that make mistakes, say the wrong thing at times, who can sometimes harbor grudges, exhibit jealousy—yet whom love their mates whole-heartedly and would do anything for them.  This is the point though however where I have to brag that my husband sets my standard for all other men (make-believe or not!). He’s my real-life hero.

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