Before any Austen heroine brings home the right man to Mother or Father, she always brings home the wrong one! The dashing libertine, the suavely dangerous man who seduces all the women in the household to some degree. Did Austen have a thing about libertines? Because sometimes, you know, they’re a lot more interesting than her good-boy clergymen heroes. Just saying. These men don’t make good rest-of-life fodder, but oh, I think she felt their charm. And of course, what better villain than one who can ruin your life?
So here I present a completely unbiased rundown of the Austen bad boys. Ladies, gentlemen, are they believable? Would you fall for them/let your friends date them? On a scale of 1 to 10, now. 1 = “no, what a dork! I never liked him.” to 10 = “sign me up here and now!”
Mr. Willoughby: A classic, truly, Mr. Willoughby recites poetry at the drop of a hat, rides to any damsel’s rescue, and carelessly seduces innocent young girls. He’s funny, irreverent, and, the kicker, we learn he really does love Marianne after all. Without this touch of heart, I don’t think modern audiences would give him a second thought, but remember, in the book Colonel Brandon is pretty boring. It took all Alan Rickman’s Alan-Rickmanness to make him into a mysterious romantic figure, and satisfy us that he’s a fitting mate for Marianne. With this touch of heart, I’m always left with the vague dissatisfying feeling that Marianne will never be happy without Willoughby.
Mr. Wickham: Chatty, flattering, sly Mr. Wickham. He gets at Lizzie by taking her into his secret and making her feel smart and special. We can all fall for that from time to time. After his unmasking, he’s so annoying I always find it hard to believe I liked him at the beginning of the book! (Lydia, of course, would run off with anyone.)
Henry Crawford: I always do fall rather for Henry Crawford, and regret him his fate. He’s the opposite of Wickham—he starts out bad, obviously and proudly bad, and so gradually becomes good. In fact I think Jane Austen rather liked him too, and had so convincingly reformed him that she didn’t know what to do but have him run off with Maria Bertram AKA Mrs. Rushworth. Do I believe he’d do that? I’m never sure, that’s the thing.
Mr. Elliot: He’s a bad boy, all right, but thoughtful Anne is never in any real danger. Her own Captain Wentworth is dashing enough to satisfy all that. Even more than with the others, with Mr. Elliot Jane Austen really seems to be pointing out how someone can say all the right things and look proper, and not mean a word of it. Mr. Elliot is suave and flatters Anne’s intelligence and looks, but he never caught my eye. Like Jane, I like guys who sometimes act without thinking. (Just ask Mr. Fitzpatrick!) Mr. Elliot is too measured—and more truly a villain than any of the others.
Non-starters: I haven’t included John Thorpe, Mr. Elton, or Frank Churchill in the running. Sure, they deceive people, but either not us, or not much, or they aren’t really bad when you get right down to it. Feel free to differ, of course!
I’ve just realized what separates the charming Austen men from the boring ones! The charming ones, good or bad, sometimes say or do an unconsidered thing—they are natural. Even the bumbling gentle heroes achieve charm when they do that.Alan Rickman, Colonel Brandon, Henry Crawford, Mr. Elliot, Mr. Wickham, Mr. Willoughby on Monday, October 26, 2009 · 6 Comments »