It’s no secret that I adore nearly every word Jane Austen ever wrote. Even though I read Persuasion, the last of Austen’s published novels, 4 or 5 years ago, I just got around to seeing the 2007 film adaptation that the BBC produced last weekend. I had no expectations other than to get lost in the English countryside, the language of long ago and the rigid propriety of traditional British culture. What I found was a gorgeous piece of cinematography that captured every bit of the charisma, the romance and the suspense of the novel written nearly 200 years ago. Austen managed (all the while very ill, by the way – she died shortly after finishing Persuasion, before it was even published) to capture yet again the folly of human beings, the absurdity of those members of society who consider themselves innately above others of lesser consequence and the richness of the people in this world who truly rise above such nonsense and make our species worth our salt.
England happened to be on the brink of a social revolution in 1818 when Austen wrote this gem and she made her opinions known in the hero of this tale, Captain Frederick Wentworth. Wentworth began life in relative poverty and proposed to his beloved Anne Elliot, the daughter of a baronet, shortly before joining the Navy. Anne’s father insisted she not marry the young Wentworth because of his lack of financial means and, being young and impressionable, Anne allowed him to persuade her to reject him despite her love for him. More than seven years later, Captain Wentworth has moved up the ranks of the British Navy and made a considerable fortune, establishing himself as a successful, self-made man. At the time, wealth earned rather than wealth inherited was looked down upon by the aristocracy. Austen must have thought such a notion ridiculous, since her Captain Wentworth proved on every other page to be an intelligent, honorable man with whom the solemn Anne Elliot was still very much in love, even after a separation of nearly eight years.
When I read this, I, too became smitten with Captain Wentworth. After seeing the film starring Rupert Penry-Jones as the swoon-worthy naval officer, I fell in love. Why have I not seen Rupert Penry-Jones before? Although Mr. Darcy is the finest man ever written, Captain Wentworth is indeed a very close second and Penry-Jones truly did him justice. I may have even drooled.
I wonder if Austen was able to write such bewitching men like Darcy and Wentworth because she knew similar men (we write what we know, as they say) or if these superb characters were figments of her imagination that perhaps mirrored everything she fantasized about in a man. Characters like the abominable Edward Cullen of the Twilight series are obviously the adolescent fantasies of bored housewives but men like Darcy and Wentworth, while capable of making the ladies fall head over feet, are characters of substance, not just reflections of every little girl’s knight in shining armor fantasy. They have flaws, they have egos (as ALL men do), their feelings gets hurt, they hold grudges…but they get over those bruised egos and rise above their flaws and they go after the girl they can’t stand to live without. And, thanks to Austen, they manage to say all the right things. If Austen knew no such men in her life on whom to model her characters and instead created these men wholly from her imagination to capture all she thought ideal in a man, at least these were the fantasies of a full-grown, smart, creative and quick-witted woman.
What do you think: could men as insanely irresistible as Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth have actually existed? Or are they nothing more than the Edward Cullens of the 19th century?
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