We Austenites can be a boy-crazy bunch.
We make much of Mr. Darcy diving into a pond in a puffy shirt (which isn’t even in the book!). We divide into camps over, say, Knightley and Wentworth, and then further into sub-camps over Jonny Lee Miller and Jeremy Northam (or Colin Firth and Matthew McFadyen, or Ciaran Hinds and Rupert Penry-Jones). We admire the mutton chops and the fancy dance moves of Austen heroes from Sense and Sensibility all the way up to Persuasion. We objectify the pants off those fictional characters—see what I did there?—and have a fantastic time doing it.
And we’re missing half the story.
In Friday’s Telegraph, “novelist and ladies’ man” (heh) Jay McInerney gave us the other side of the coin: the male perspective on the ladies of Austen. Spoiler alert: It seems the menfolk can’t get enough of the fine eyes and dirty hems of Elizabeth Bennet any more than Darcy could; McInerney also reveals things for Emma Woodhouse and, with a charming note of self-consciousness, Fanny Price.
We don’t get a lot of this perspective around these parts; being primarily female and straight, the Austen community in general tends to spend way more time on what’s underneath Darcy’s breeches than what might be going on with those boobalicious Regency gowns.
McInerney goes on to claim some degree of depth in his Austen attachments—he really does love them for their minds, he says, both as characters and as representations of Jane herself. But what if he didn’t? What if this guy fixated—with an unusual sense of publicity and and odd sort of camaraderie—on the rain-drenched Marianne Dashwood, or on Jane Bennet’s mid-storm arrival at Netherfield? What if he sat around writing fan fiction about Lydia and either Wickham or, because it’s fanfic and he can, Mr. Collins or Charlotte Lucas or (crossover alert!) Hermione Granger or Sirius Black? Or all of the above? Would we react to him differently, and to his way of experiencing the Austen universe? How would we approach him as a man and as an admirer and/or objectifier of the women of Austen?
Readers, what do you think? (And while we’re at it, who’s your biggest Austen crush—of either gender?)