For the first time in a good long while, we have a Disney fairy tale on our hands—a true “Once Upon a Time,” sugar-coated Grimm’s-ripoff fairy tale—and all the buzz over this Rapunzel business has the generic Prince Charming type on my mind. Surprise! But really: his name is Charming. Blame me if you must.
Jane, of course, isn’t in the business of fairy tales. Happy endings? Yes. True love’s kiss? Usually. But Jane is fundamentally a realist, and in her version of Regency England, sometimes perfectly intelligent and likeable ladies end up with guys like Mr. Collins—who never turns into a prince, no matter how many kisses he gets (to be fair: twice, max).
Oddly enough, with a slight change of scene and a good fairy godmother, many of the heroines of the Austen universe would make pretty good fairy tale princesses, or princesses-to-be—think smart, dreamy, plucky, maybe a bit bossy (ahem, Miss Woodhouse), and generally virtuous even in the case of undeserved poverty. The men, however, definitely tend away from the Prince Charming type—probably, to be honest, because Austen took the time to develop her gentlemen in a way that isn’t on the menu for most Disneyfied princes. They’re handsome, those princes, but let’s say complex emotional arcs aren’t exactly their bag (though 30 Rock tells me that Prince Eric, the gold standard for animated hotness, was based on fictional Jon Hamm‘s high school swim team photo—and I’ll take that fake fact to my grave).
Sorry, Austen gents. We’re taking away your…well, whatever it is you call a prince’s little crown (tiaros?), and here’s why:
Mr. Darcy: Prince on the inside, Beast on the outside. Surely in possession of a trusty steed (for that fifty miles of good road) and a true heart, but a bit on the oversensitive side. Definitely doesn’t hold with fairy godmothers; is probably made extra cranky by extraneous acts of the supernatural.
Mr. Knightley: Definitely the most outwardly princely of the bunch—handsome and well-intentioned, and ripe for occasional high-horse unseating at the hands of his lady love, which of course is always a nice touch. Prone to snootiness and angry speeches—theoretically appropriate for the position, but ultimately unbecoming to a man with the last name Charming (who, remember, may eventually need to get it on with a very recent scullery maid).
Captain Wentworth: He’s a pirate, not a prince. I mean, come on.
Col. Brandon – Too old for the Prince Eric treatment. Also, princes don’t have wards or wear flannel waistcoats. Unlikely to burst into song.
Henry Tilney – Okay, cute and clever. He’s the prince’s bookish little brother—sarcastic, and into a good novel and the price of muslin. Possibly too detail-oriented and not take-charge enough for the average dragon-slaying mission, though excellent for an entertaining retelling later.
Edmund Bertram – A clergyman! And not even a first-rate one! Certainly a good guy, but too much in need of a rich princess to bail him out of his own financial duress.