One the great boons of the literary world is that the ambiguity of words means we can craft its world through the filters of our own imaginations.
In less fancy terms, that means we can imagine Pride and Prejudice’s swoon-worthy Mr Darcy as precisely whoever we like – from your angst-ridden crush from the local bookstore or, more reliably, Colin Firth from the beloved BBC series.
Sadly, academics have come along to crash the party, teaming together to carefully analyse Austen’s text and come up with a historically accurate portrait of the character, as commissioned by TV channel Drama to celebrate its Jane Austen Season.
Carried out by John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at University College London and Amanda Vickery, Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary University of London, the re-appraisal took into consideration the text, contemporary beauty standards, and Austen's own personal life and who she may have drawn inspiration from.
Also of relevance were any early illustrations of the character, as well as the socio-economic and cultural factors which may have impacted how Darcy would present himself.
Their key findings discovered that Darcy wouldn't, in fact, be the dark-haired, square-jawed brooder he's often shown as in modern iterations; he would have worn the traditional powdered wig of the time, alongside possessing a pale complexion of white and pink skin.
He also would have had a long oval face with a small mouth, pointy chin, and long nose alongside slender sloping shoulders and a modest chest, with large quads, thighs, and calves; all common features of a gentleman of that era. He also would have been around 5’11”, as opposed to Colin Firth’s 6’2” or Matthew MacFadyen's 6’3” in the 2005 film.
Amanda Vickery stated: “Mr Darcy is an iconic literary character, renowned for his good looks, charm and mystery. As Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in the 1790s, our Mr Darcy portrayal reflects the male physique and common features at the time. Men sported powdered hair, had narrow jaws and muscular, defined legs were considered very attractive.”
“A stark contrast to the chiselled, dark, brooding Colin Firth portrayal we associate the character with today. Drama’s The Real Mr Darcy – a dramatic re-appraisal study reveals that in recent times, Darcy's character has been sexed up for the modern day audience with a turbo-charged injection of testosterone and steamy romance.”
Jane Austen Season starts 12 February on Drama