The Best Jane Austen Hero Isn't Mr. Darcy — It's Mr. Tilney

by Emma Oulton

Jane Austen wrote six super-romantic novels filled with swoonworthy guys, and yet somehow Mr. Darcy gets all the credit for being the best Jane Austen hero. Yes, he's supposed to be mega good-looking, and yes, the hatred-to-love trope is pretty irresistible — but come on, is he really the best of the bunch? I'm here to ruffle some feathers, and say that Mr. Darcy isn't my favorite of Jane Austen's leading men. And no, nor is the gruffly sensitive Mr. Knightley, nor the soulful and passionate Captain Wentworth. (Though I wouldn't say no to any of them, if we're being honest here.) It's not the shy and gentle Edward Ferrars, or the deeply caring Colonel Brandon, or the kind and brotherly Edmund Bertram.

Stream here.

Nope, I think that the best Jane Austen hero is the woefully underrated Mr. Henry Tilney. Catherine Morland may have adored him, but Austen fans don't seem to have taken to him with quite the same ardor — even though he's clearly the wittiest, funniest, and downright nicest of the lot. But I'm about to change all that, with seven reasons why it should be Mr. Tilney on that poster pinned up above your bed, instead of Mr. Darcy.

It's official: the best Jane Austen hero is Mr. Tilney — and here's why.


He's Good-Looking — But Not Too Good-Looking

When we first meet Mr. Tilney, he's described as "rather tall" with "a pleasing countenance" — which is Jane Austen's way of saying that he's pretty hot. But he's not so hot that it burns your eyes to look directly at him; Austen goes on to say that:

"if not quite handsome, [he] was very near it."


He's The Funniest Of Jane Austen's Heroes

Sense of humor is very important in any great love story, and Mr. Tilney is without a doubt the funniest of Jane Austen's leading men. From the moment Catherine meets him at a dance, he has her giggling with his hilarious guesses about what Catherine will write in her diary that evening, and his mock-serious commentary on the social etiquette of dancing.

"That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours."


He's Very Sarcastic

Jane Austen practically invented sarcasm, she's that good at it — and Henry Tilney is her most sarcastic character of all. He makes fun of society in the same way that Austen does, so any Austenite is bound to adore him.

"If it be true, as a celebrated writer has maintained, that no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman’s love is declared, it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is known to have dreamt of her."


He's Forgiving

Catherine Morland gets severely carried away and ends up straight-up accusing Mr. Tilney's dad of murder. That's not an ideal way for your girlfriend to meet your parents — but Mr. Tilney totally understands (and loves!) Catherine's dramatic tendencies, and forgives her for the misunderstanding.

He may say:

"Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

but the next morning, he's so attentive to Catherine that everything is soon forgiven and forgotten.


He's A Good Brother

Mr. Tilney spends a lot of time hanging out with his shy younger sister, and helps her make good friends with Catherine. Eleanor says it herself:

"He must be entirely misunderstood, if he can ever appear to say an unjust thing of any woman at all, or an unkind one of me.”

And as we all know, good brothers equal great husbands.


He's Quite Feminist

OK, so Henry Tilney does make some rather misogynistic jokes which I definitely don't love, but sadly, the bar for male feminists was pretty low in Austen's time. So when Tilney says things like this, I can't help but grin:

"In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes."


He Loves Books

The best thing about Mr. Tilney is how much he enjoys reading. In Austen's day, novels were generally dismissed as frivolous women's hobbies, and so Tilney's feminist side shows itself again when he sticks up for reading all genres with this iconic statement:

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."