Ranking Jane Austen's 14 Leading Men

by Anna Klassen

A wise woman once said, "Beware of fainting fits, beware of swoons." And although this woman was indescribably wise, she also created some of the most romantic love stories of modern literature. Today marks Jane Austen's 238 birthday, and to celebrate, we've taken a long hard look at all the leading men of her literature, and ranked each man from the best (most smoldering, sweet, and smartest) to worst (boring, unattractive, and downright evil). Behold, your guide to Austen's finest creations:

14. John Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility

In Austen's 1811 novel, Sense and Sensibility, an alluring suitor named John Willoughby makes a grand entrance by rescuing our story's protagonist, Marianne Dashwood, after she twists her ankle and falls down a hill in a rainstorm. After this knight-in-shining-armor action, Marianne quickly falls in love with Willoughbey. But, like all good villains, Willoughby's heart of gold is simply a front for his truly scandalous nature: seducing a 15-year-old girl and abandoning her when she became pregnant. Classic douchebag behavior.

13. George Wickham, Pride and Prejudice

George Wickham is a classic player. He even tried to seduce two women from the same household (Lizzie Bennet and her younger sister, Lydia) and succeeded in seducing Lydia. While we wanted to forgive him, once we found out that he also seduced Darcy's younger sister and attempted to cheat Darcy's family out of their money, it's safe to say Wickham goes in the "no, never, not ever, ever, ever" pile of potential suitors. The moral of the story? Never trust a man in uniform, even if he has "a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address."

12. Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park

Henry Crawford first arrives at Mansfield Park with his sister Mary from London. The pair have an "exotic" air about them, plenty of money, and the ability to become bored easily. Because of this, Henry decides he will make Fanny Price fall in love with him — you know, just for kicks and giggles. Eventually, his affections become somewhat real, but when he proposes to Fanny, she says no, and for good reason. Later in the story, Henry elopes with a married woman, destroying any chances with poor Fanny Price.

11. John Thorpe, Northanger Abbey

John Thorpe doesn't know the meaning of good manners. He is constantly swearing, blubbering, and a huge liar. Basically, he's set up from the beginning to be completely insufferable. While John attempts to woo Catherine, his bad habits and over confidence quickly turn against him.

10. Mr. William Collins, Pride and Prejudice

OK, so there is really nothing evil about Mr. Collins, he's actually quite funny (without knowing it) and brings a healthy dose of humor into the text. He is however, exceptionally boring, a clergyman, and Lizzie Bennet's cousin. So excuuuuuse her if she doesn't want to marry her boring cousin in an incestuous relationship when he proposes out of no where. Also, he propositioned Lizzie with this whammy of a proposal:

My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.

9. William Walter Elliot, Persuasion

Another cousin suitor, Elliot is a cold opportunist who is only looking out for his own inheritance. Cousin to Anne, Elliot tries to date, er, court, his cousin until she finds out the truth about his character, and his only real worry: That a woman named Mrs. Clay might marry his meal-ticket, Mr. Elliot, and have a baby boy, knocking him off the top of the list for Mr. Elliot's money.

8. Frank Churchill, Emma

In Clueless, the 1995 modern retelling of Jane Austen's Emma, Frank Churchill goes by the name of Christian, and the ultimate reason he and Cher (Emma) can't be together, is because he is a "cake boy". But in the original novel, Emma, who seems to be able to find a match for everyone but herself, decides Churchill is irresponsible, a liar, and ultimately unsuited to her, despite being oh-so attractive.

7. Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility

Colonel Brandon is one of the thoroughbreds, one of the good guys with good intentions (and ironically, was played by Snape in the 1995 adaptation). But he's also a 35-year-old chap (old man status in Jane Austen days), and very quiet, grave, and even cold at first meeting. Brandon is attracted to Marianne, but she finds him too old, and because of his age, assumes that he is incapable of loving. This theory is eventually debunked, and the pair end up happily married.

6. Edward Ferrars, Sense and Sensibility

While he is described as unattractive (yet somehow played on screen by Hugh Grant and Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens) Edward Ferrars is a loving and kind gentleman with an open heart. He is in love with Elinor, but attempts to sacrifice his happiness with the woman he loves because of a promise he made (to marry another woman) when he was very young. With courage and reassurance from Elinor, the two eventually marry.

5. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

Look, I know what you're thinking: How is Mr. Darcy not at the top of this list?! Isn't he every woman's dreamboat of a man? Isn't he?! Well, he's good, he may even be great, but he's certainly not the best. Darcy is seriously moody: He loves her, he hates her, he's indifferent, and he loves her again. Surely, "You have bewitched me, body and soul" will go down in history as one of the greatest lines in romantic literature, but it took him a while to get to this selfless place.

4. Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey

Oh Henry, Henry, Henry. He is one of the most caring and articulate men in Austen's novels. Although sometimes a bit cheeky with those less read than he, Tilney truly cares about his family and those he loves. He captivates our story's protagonist, Catherine, with his worldly views, opinions on books, and cleverness. He is also forgiving, and gives Catherine the benefit of the doubt when she assumes the worst of his family's past. All around, he is an exceptional romantic hero.

3. John Knightley, Emma

John Knightley and Emma Woodhouse are pretty much BFFs throughout the novel. They never quite consider each other romantic interests, but offer one another (usually unsolicited) advice on romance. In Clueless, Mr. Knightley is Josh, Cher's ex-step brother. He's the one's who has been there all along, and ends up being the perfect match. We love Knightley because he is Emma's equal, he isn't afraid to challenge her and she isn't afraid to dish it back. We have no doubt that they lived happily ever after.

2. Captain Fredrick Wentworth, Persuasion

Fredrick Wentworth was the picture of a new kind of gentleman at the turn of the 19th century: Instead of inheriting his money like most men, he earned every dollar. After being separated from Anne, our protagonist and his love, he is reunited with her 8 years later, but their relationship is not without its struggles. In the end, it is an over-the-top-perfect letter that wins her (and our) heart. Here's a snippet for your swooning pleasure:

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.

1. Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park

We have arrived at our favorite, most romantic and perfect Austen man: Edmund Bertram, from her 1814 novel, Mansfield Park. He is perhaps the purest of characters, a boy who grew up in the same household as Fanny when his family took her in, and the only one in his family who actually cares about her wellbeing. He has plans to be a clergyman, and encourages Fanny in her writing pursuits. In his essence, Edmund Bertram epitomizes the classic Austen leading man: Kind, honest, sensible, loyal, and above all — good.

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