Welcome to my definitive ranking of Austen’s romantic heroes and, as an auxiliary ranking that I was not actually asked to add, my favourite actors.
AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER: This is a sensitive and controversial topic which I will attempt to treat with all due diligence. Please feel free to disagree. However, I am right. Let us begin.
8. Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park:
Wit: Too bored to care.
Charm: Too bored to care.
Fine Eyes: Too bored to care.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: The man is a priest. I am very happy that he got his cottagecore fantasy. But is it a mansion with an obsequious housekeeper who practically raised you? I think not. Move along.
Gross Factor: Cousins?! No! He’s not the type of cousin Mr Collins is either i.e. nicely undefined so that I can happily imagine for my own peace of mind that he is six generations removed and the product of an affair. Sadly, he is definitely Fanny’s cousin. He should have married Mary Crawford and neatly sidestepped the possibility of web-footed offspring.
Favourite Actor: I wasn’t about to subject myself to actually watching cousins kissing, so I haven’t watched it. I’m giving this one to Jonny Lee Miller as consolation for losing both best Knightley and best Jo(h)nny-as-Knightley.
7. Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility:
Wit: Silent. Brooding. He’s like Darcy if he never proposed to Elizabeth.
Charm: None at first, but points for his dedicated care and love for Marianne at the end.
Fine Eyes: Was he hot? I neither know nor care. He was old, this I know for sure.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: Very rich, which is something we love to see from an Austen hero.
Gross Factor: The bit of me that would excuse his dullness because of his kindness has been viciously trodden on by the fact that he is old enough to be her father. Austen, stop! Get some therapy!
Favourite Actor: I’ve only seen Alan Rickman and I love him lots so let’s go with that.
6. Edward Ferrars, Sense and Sensibility:
Wit: Not dazzling, but not stupid.
Charm: Bumbling, shy, generally Richard Curtis-eque.
Fine Eyes: ‘Not handsome.’ Whoever cast Hugh Grant didn’t listen to this.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: It was very attractive of him to give everything up for the sake of Lucy’s reputation, although perhaps he knew she was a fortune-seeker and played the long game. I imagine at the end Elinor turned to him and said ‘I love you; however, given I am a woman who cannot work, how do you plan to finance our future lives and the many children we are sure to have due to 19th century superstitions being our only family planning method?’ to which I think he would have responded with some stammering Grantian reply.
Gross Factor: None, I am pleased/shocked to report!
Favourite Actor: Hugh Grant. I will provide no other justification than this.
5. Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice:
Wit: He’s good-humoured but malleable and gullible.
Charm: A sweetheart!
Fine Eyes: Very handsome! Good for you, Jane Bennet.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: £5000 a year!
Gross Factor: None! Well done, Austen!
Favourite Actor: Christopher Sean as Bing Lee in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, an online web series adaptation in which Lizzie has a vlog. He really earnestly works for Jane’s forgiveness in this one.
4. Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey:
Wit: When you say you want a funny guy, he’s the one you mean. He somehow manages to make fun of Catherine to her face and yet also be very sweet. He’s also very clever and well-read (Henry is, in fact, the only Austen man I could actually see myself being with because he is – get this – a normal human being. Maybe he just reminds me of Gilbert Blythe).
Charm: Major points for being very kind to Catherine, a loving brother, having a moral compass and coming all that way to apologise. Minus points for mocking her but also, she deserved it.
Fine Eyes: He’s pretty good-looking, I think. His big pull is actually having a brain, though.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: He’s got that whole cosy priest vibe going for him too, but I love him, unlike Edmund, so this time I won’t pretend I’d prefer a mansion to a sweet little parsonage. He is also willing to give it up for Catherine. Aw.
Gross Factor: None, again! Keep restraining yourself, Austen!
Favourite Actor: JJ Feild. Watch Austenland – it’s a masterpiece.
3. George Knightley, Emma:
Wit: Supreme, biting, cutting. It’s like if Mr Bennet was young(ish) and attractive. He has excellent judgment. It’s very good of him, for the sake of my sanity, to actually be able to see what’s happening. It gives me hope.
Charm: Kind, considerate – to everyone but Emma. I love that he is the only one who doesn’t coddle her. Definitely top-notch flirting tactics.
Fine Eyes: Older but rugged.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: Rich, but willing to give up his independence to live with Emma and her father!
Gross Factor: He says he’s been in love with her since she was a child. I would like to brush this off as a joke and think instead that he only realised because of his jealousy of Frank. That had better be true, because he’s 16 years older than her.
Favourite Actor: Johnny Flynn, you can move in with me and my weird dad Bill Nighy any day of the week (okay, for real, the 2020 Emma is a fever dream of brilliance which builds their relationship beautifully and the way he looks at her is impeccable).
2. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice:
Wit: Extremely clever with zero self-awareness. Very mean, and then suddenly the nicest man on earth. Mr Personality Transplant 1813.
Charm: 0-100 in less than a year. Desperately in love with Lizzie, Miss Reader Surrogate 1813, so we feel loved too.
Fine Eyes: Canonically fit.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: Canonically 50%.
Gross Factor: It says a lot about what Austen has done to me that I look at an age-gap of eight years where the woman is so young and say ‘that’s fine.’
Favourite Actor: Matthew McFadyen, I love you so much. That is the problem. It’s called Pride and Prejudice, not Pride and Crippling Social Awkwardness with a Light Sprinkling of Internalised Snobbery. Colin Firth makes me hate him, sympathise with him, and love him. Also, Matthew, this is 2005’s fault in general, but he has better hair. So, it goes to Colin. Just.
1. Frederick Wentworth, Persuasion:
Wit: Clever, competent, succeeds professionally against all the odds. Pretty cutting to Anne, but she deserves it!
Charm: ‘You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.’ Persuasion is my favourite book of all time for a reason, and it’s because he loves Anne Elliott so much it allows her to feel joy again.
Fine Eyes: Very handsome.
Percentage of Derbyshire Owned: We love a self-made man! Get that coin, Frederick!
Gross Factor: A very small age difference? No close or quasi- familial relationship? Jane, this is your best work!
Favourite Actor: Nothing beats Rupert Penry-Jones and his longing looks.