Jane Austen gifted us all with the romantic character of Mr. Darcy, a brooding yet honorable man who is simply described as a “fine, tall person” with “handsome features, noble mien.” We were all able to fill in the blanks from there according to our preferences (coughColinFirthInAPondcough). No more.
On Thursday, two professors released a study that points out the cultural shifts in beauty standards and simultaneously kills all our boners. John Sutherland, of University College London and Amanda Vickery of Queen Mary University of London, spent a month researching male beauty norms during the Georgian period to make their deductions. They muse on many details that could have been influenced by not only Jane Austen’s class and time period, but her crushes:
After the demise of the male white wig at the end of the 1700s locks flowed. Down to the shoulders, often. Romanticism was in the air. The young man, John Parker, whom Jane Austen is supposed to have modelled Darcy, had hair as long as Elizabeth Bennet’s. But Darcy is not, like Parker, in the first flush of youth. He is twenty-eight, seven years older than Elizabeth (the ideal age difference people believed, for a happy marriage). A man restyles at that age. Virility lay in adult maturity.
At the time when Austen wrote the novel in the 1790s, although not published until 1813, Darcy would, from all evidence available, have had loose powdered mid length hair, much akin to the popular male style of the era.
Most of the women interviewed for the UK TV Drama episode on the study imagine Mr. Darcy as very tall, as that’s one of the few things Austen directly mentions. But as Sutherland and Vickery point out, the average height then was 5'6" which means “tall” could have still been under 6 feet. He would also have been slope-shouldered and pale-faced, since a nobleman didn’t dirty his hands by lifting hay bales out under the burning sun. It all adds up to someone who barely fits most of our visions of a romantic hero. He maybe kinda looks like Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings?
There is also emphasis on Mr. Darcy’s jaw. It was not square. Get this image of Colin Firth sensually smoldering, mutton chops framing his chiseled chin, out of your brain:
Or Elliot Cowan from Lost in Austen:
Oh, what about Matthew Macfayden? Forget it. No cleft chins for you.
The professors insist that Mr. Darcy would have had a long nose, pouty little lips and a twee tiny chin that points down to his concave chest. It does seem as though people of certain eras all have the same eyebrows, but how could they know that face shape would be so similar across the board? Oh right, inbreeding:
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.
One honorable mention goes to legs: a real man in the Georgian era controlled his horse with massive thighs. Nowadays we have an app for that. At least Mr. Darcy was powerful on the bottom, like an emu. So. Would u?